Cognac and Armagnac: Two giants in the world of distilled spirits. But what differentiates cognac from armagnac? Let’s embark on a spirited journey to discover the nuances. Cognac vs Armagnac, decoding the grape vine.
Brief history of Cognac and Armagnac
Cognac and Armagnac are two French brandies that have been enjoyed for centuries. Cognac is the more famous of the two, but Armagnac has a rich history dating back to the 14th century. Both spirits are made from grapes grown in their respective regions, but they differ in their production methods and flavor profiles.
Cognac is produced in the Charente region of France, specifically in the towns of Cognac, Jarnac, and Segonzac. Its production can be traced back to the 16th century when Dutch traders introduced distillation techniques to the region.
By the 17th century, Cognac had become a popular spirit among aristocrats and was exported throughout Europe. Armagnac, on the other hand, is produced in Gascony, a region located in southwestern France.
Its history dates back to at least the 14th century when grape-growing became popular in Gascony. The spirit was first distilled by monks as a medicinal remedy before becoming a popular drink among locals.
Overview of Differences between Cognac And Armagnac
While both spirits share similarities due to being French brandies made from grapes, there are several key differences that set them apart. One major difference lies in the grapes used to produce each spirit. For Cognac production, only certain grape varieties can be used: Ugni Blanc (also known as Trebbiano), Folle Blanche, and Colombard.
In contrast, ten different grape varieties can be used for Armagnac production including Baco Blanc and Colombard. Another difference is their respective distillation methods.
Both spirits use copper pot stills for distillation but differ in how many times they’re distilled. In Cognac production, the spirit is distilled twice while Armagnac is distilled just once.
This difference in distillation can impact the flavor and texture of each spirit. Cognac and Armagnac differ in their aging process.
Cognac must be aged in French oak barrels for at least two years, while Armagnac must be aged for a minimum of one year in oak barrels. Additionally, Cognac uses new oak barrels while Armagnac uses older barrels that have been used at least once before.
These differences contribute to unique flavor profiles for each spirit. In the following sections, we will explore the production processes and flavor profiles of both spirits in greater detail to highlight their differences.
Differences in grape varieties used
The grape varieties used in each region are a significant factor that contributes to the differences between Cognac and Armagnac. Cognac is produced using mainly Ugni Blanc grapes, which grow best in the cool, chalky soil found in the region.
These grapes have a high acidity level and produce a wine that is perfect for distillation into Cognac. Armagnac, on the other hand, is made from several grape varieties, including Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche and Baco 22A.
The use of Folle Blanche was more common before phylloxera destroyed many vineyards in Armagnac in the late 19th century. Since then Baco 22A has been developed as a hybrid that provides resistance to diseases like phylloxera.
Distillation methods used in each region
The distillation process for both Cognac and Armagnac involves heating wine until it vaporizes. However, there are some differences between the two methods.
Cognac is double distilled using copper pot stills. The first distillation produces a spirit called “brouillis,” which is distilled again to create “eau-de-vie.” This second distillation must be carried out within six months of the first one.
Armagnac uses an alembic still made of copper similar to those used hundreds of years ago. It’s single distilled with no rectification column so you get all of the flavors directly from the wine.
Aging process and types of barrels used
Another difference between these two spirits is their aging process and barrel types used during maturation. Cognacs are aged for long periods (up to 50 years)in oak barrels with varying degrees of charred wood on their interiors. The wood imbues the cognac with flavors and aromas such as vanilla, cinnamon, and other spices.
Armagnac matures in oak barrels too, but the Armagnac barrels are usually made from local French oak (as opposed to Limousin for Cognac). This type of wood gives the Armagnac more tannins which give it a rustic feel.
The length of time in barrel for both Cognac and Armagnac varies depending on the desired flavor profile. Typically XO cognacs are aged for at least 6 years while XO armagnacs can be aged for up to 20 years.
Tasting notes for Cognac
When it comes to tasting notes for Cognac, one word that immediately comes to mind is “elegant.” This spirit often boasts a floral and fruity flavor profile. Depending on the specific type of Cognac, you might encounter hints of roses, violets, apricots, and peaches. On top of that, you may also pick up on spicy notes such as cinnamon or nutmeg.
The combination of these flavors creates a beautifully balanced drink. Take the VSOP category of Cognac, for instance.
You’ll typically find tasting notes such as “vanilla,” “caramel,” and “oak.” These flavors are the result of the aging process in oak barrels which gives it its characteristic color. Moreover, these barrels also impart a subtle oakiness to the drink.
Tasting notes for Armagnac
Armagnacs are known for their rustic character and earthy undertones. When you take a sip of Armagnac, you might sense aromas like hazelnut or chestnut along with hints of vanilla and caramel from the oak barrels.
If you’re trying Armagnac vs Cognac for the first time, expect it to taste more intense than its counterpart. The flavors in Armagnacs tend to be stronger with more depth and complexity than those found in Cognacs which have comparatively milder tastes.
The flavor profile can vary wildly depending on how long it was aged or what kind of cask was used during maturation. In general though expect nutty earthiness with some stone fruit sweetness mixed in there too.
Comparison of flavor profiles between the two
While both spirits share some similarities in terms of taste (e.g., vanilla and caramel), they each have their own unique characteristics as well. Cognac tends to have a lighter, more elegant flavor profile, while Armagnac has a bolder, earthier taste. The fruity notes in Cognac may be more apparent than in Armagnac, which often has deeper nutty and caramel undertones.
Cognacs are typically smoother and less harsh than Armagnacs due to the distillation process and the type of grapes used. This makes them ideal for sipping neat or in cocktails.
On the other hand, Armagnacs are better suited for pairing with food due to their intense flavors. They complement rich meats such as lamb or duck perfectly.
If you’re looking for a post-dinner drink that packs a punch, then an Armagnac might be right up your alley. Overall, the flavor profiles of both spirits are complex and varied – meaning there’s something out there for everyone’s palate!
The different classifications for Cognac (VS, VSOP, XO)
Cognac is classified based on its age. The youngest Cognac available is labeled as VS or Very Special, which means it has been aged for at least two years in oak barrels.
The next level of classification is VSOP or Very Superior Old Pale, which means that the Cognac has been aged for at least four years in oak barrels. The highest classification level for Cognac is XO or Extra Old, which means that the liquor has been aged for at least ten years in oak barrels.
It’s important to note that some Cognac makers have begun using new labeling terminology such as “Extra” and “Hors d’Age,” but these are not yet regulated by law and have no official meaning. Stick with the classic VSOP and XO labels to ensure you’re getting a high-quality product.
The different classifications for Armagnac (Blanche, VS, Hors d’Age)
Unlike Cognac, Armagnac is not classified based on its age alone. Instead, it’s also categorized based on its distillation method and its aging process.
Armagnacs labeled as Blanche or white are unaged and typically bottled immediately after distillation. These types of Armagnacs are rare and highly prized due to their intense flavor profiles.
The most common classifications for Armagnacs are based on their age. A VS or Very Special Armagnac must be aged in oak barrels for a minimum of two years before bottling.
A VVSOP or Very Very Superior Old Pale must be aged in oak barrels for at least six years before bottling. An Hors d’Age Armagnac has been aged in oak barrels for at least ten years before bottling.
It’s worth noting that some Armagnac makers may use other terms such as “Reserve” or “Grand Assemblage,” but these terms have no legal definition and can vary from producer to producer. As with Cognacs, it’s best to stick with the classic VS and Hors d’Age classifications when selecting an Armagnac.
Pairing with Food
Classic food pairings with Cognac (e.g., foie gras, chocolate)
When it comes to pairing food with Cognac, there are a few classic combinations that are sure to impress your guests. The first one is foie gras, a French delicacy made from duck or goose liver.
The rich and buttery texture of the foie gras pairs perfectly with the smooth and fruity notes of a good VSOP Cognac. Another classic pairing is chocolate.
Dark chocolate with high cocoa content (70% or more) works particularly well, as it brings out the spicy and nutty undertones in the Cognac. If you’re looking for something more savory, consider pairing your Cognac with grilled meats.
The smoky flavors of grilled beef or lamb complement the oakiness of an XO Cognac perfectly. Game meats like venison or wild boar also pair well with this spirit, as their bold flavor profiles can stand up to the complexity of aged Cognacs.
For those who prefer lighter fare, seafood is also a great option for pairing with Cognac. Grilled shrimp or lobster work particularly well, as their sweetness complements the fruitiness of young Cognacs like a VS.
Classic food pairings with Armagnac (e.g., cheese, game meats)
Unlike its popular cousin from northern France, Armagnac is often considered an acquired taste due to its rustic and earthy flavor profile. However, when paired correctly with food, this spirit can truly shine.
One classic pairing for Armagnac is cheese. Rich and creamy cheeses like Brie or Camembert are perfect companions for this spirit’s nutty undertones.
Blue cheeses like Roquefort also work well thanks to their sharp and tangy flavors that can balance out the sweetness of aged Armagnacs. Another classic pairing for Armagnac is game meats.
The bold and robust flavors of venison, wild boar or duck work particularly well with the earthy undertones of this spirit. It’s best to stick with simple preparations like grilling or roasting, as more complex sauces may overpower the unique flavors of this spirit.
For those with a sweet tooth, consider pairing your Armagnac with desserts like apple tart or crème brûlée. The caramelized sugar and buttery pastry notes complement the spicy and fruity notes in aged Armagnacs perfectly.
Both Cognac and Armagnac offer unique flavor profiles that can complement a wide range of foods. Whether you prefer rich and decadent pairings like foie gras and chocolate, or savory options like grilled meats or cheese plates, there’s a perfect match waiting to be discovered for your preferred spirit.
Popularity and Availability
Which Spirit is More Popular Globally?
When it comes to popularity on a global scale, Cognac is the clear winner. It has been produced for centuries and has built a brand recognition that few other spirits can match. In fact, over 90% of all Cognac produced is exported from France, with the largest markets being the United States and China.
Many popular cocktails also feature Cognac as a key ingredient, such as the Sidecar and the French 75. Armagnac, on the other hand, remains relatively unknown outside of France.
It has not had as much time to develop its reputation as Cognac has and therefore hasn’t reached the same level of global popularity. However, this doesn’t mean that Armagnac isn’t a high-quality spirit worth exploring.
Availability of Each Spirit in Different Regions Around the World
Cognac is available in most liquor stores worldwide due to its high demand. However, different regions may carry different brands or classifications based on import regulations or local preferences. For example, VSOP or XO classified Cognacs may be more readily available in Western countries like America compared to Asian countries like Japan where VS (Very Special) classified Cognacs are more commonly found.
Armagnac may be more difficult to find outside of France due to its lower demand globally but it still has its fans around the world who seek out unique tasting spirits. The biggest importers outside of France include Belgium, Switzerland and Germany where some specialist retailers stock a variety of Armagnacs.
It’s also worth noting that both spirits are often available online through specialized retailers who offer worldwide shipping. This means that if you are interested in trying either spirit but cannot find them locally then there are still plenty of options for you to explore!
While Cognac is more popular globally and easier to find in most places, don’t let that deter you from exploring the unique and complex flavors of Armagnac. Both spirits have their own rich history and traditions, making them worth exploring for any discerning drinker looking for something special.
Summary of key differences between Cognac and Armagnac
After exploring the differences between Cognac and Armagnac, we can see that while they are both brandies produced in France, there are notable distinctions between them. Cognac is made from a specific set of grape varieties, using a double distillation process and aged in oak barrels.
Meanwhile, Armagnac uses a range of grapes distilled just once before being aged in various types of oak barrels. These differences lead to distinct flavor profiles.
Cognac is known for its floral, fruity and spicy notes while Armagnac offers nutty, earthy and rustic flavors. The classification systems for both spirits differ as well with Cognacs being classified by VS (Very Special), VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale) and XO (Extra Old) while Armagnacs are classified by Blanche (unaged), VS, Hors d’Age (beyond age) or Vintage.
Final thoughts on which one to try first
It can be challenging to decide which spirit to try first if you’re unfamiliar with brandy. If you prefer smoother flavors with a milder finish then Cognac might be the better choice for you whereas if you prefer more complex flavors with a hint of rusticity then Armagnac could be your cup of tea. If you’re looking for versatility when it comes to pairing with food then Cognacs tend to pair well with sweet dishes such as chocolate or fruit-based desserts whilst Armagnacs have been historically paired with an array of cheeses and game meats such as wild boar or pheasant.
Overall, it’s difficult to say which one is better than the other since it’s subjective according to personal preference. It’s best to try them both out if possible or compare different bottles within each category so you can see which one suits your palate.