It’s hard to live in the shadow -- the one overlooked, or at best, an afterthought. But this is the burden that Armagnac has had to bear -- the forgotten little sister to Cognac. But what has been a difficult life for this troubled spirit has resulted in great values and hidden treasures for those who have been wise enough to look past the spotlight.
There are probably a good number of you who are probably saying, “I couldn’t care less about Cognac, why should I care about Armagnac?” But then again, it’s likely that they haven’t tried Armagnac before. If you enjoy notes of vanilla and butterscotch and wine with a full, rich body, then Armagnac is just the next delicious step.
Armagnacs, produced in a small region below Bordeaux in France, are known for their rich texture and intense notes of butter, vanilla, dried fruits and earth. They are a little more rustic than Cognac, but that just results in more personality. To get a better understanding of Armagnac, we paid a little visit to the Brandy Library to taste with their Spirit Sommelier, Ethan Kelley.
We wasted no time before five little glasses of Armagnac were lined up like soldiers, before us. Before taking our first taste, we asked Kelley what he thought the difference was between Cognac and Armagnac. His response was, “…Cognacs are sophisticated– kind of like a Burgundy or Bordeaux wine, but Armagnacs are like kick-ass Italian and Spanish wines at a good price.” It didn’t take too much time to figure out which one Kelley was partial to, and it took us only two sips of the first one before we were sold on Armagnacs as well.
Chateau de Laubade, Bas Armagnac: aromas and flavors of vanilla, butterscotch and prunes. Just like grandma used to make.
Chateau Du Busca, Armagnac Tenareze, 15 years: Slight floral aroma, hints of maple, licorice and earthy notes. Just the right amount of grit on it.
Baron de Lustrac, 1980, Cepage Bacco, Bas Armagnac: Intense notes of rich, melted butter, caramel, fig and candied orange. This is the Armagnac to convert the masses.
D”Ognoas, Alanbic, 1985, Bas Armagnac: Smooth, full body, rich notes of dried fruit with a slight spicy aroma. Delicious, but we were still thinking about the Armagnac we just had a moment before.
Domaine de Coquillon, Darroze, 1973, Bas Armagnac: Notes of spice, leather and vanilla with a hint of orange and fig.
The prices for Armagnac tend to be more reasonable than Cognac. You can get a decent bottle for $40 - $60, and most that we tasted weren’t too much more than that (an average of $85 a bottle). Sure, this might be a big investment, but a bottle goes a long way, and can you really put a price tag on notes of rich, melted butter? We can’t.