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Armagnac is a French brandy produced in the Armagnac region of France. This brandy from the south west of France is far less famous than its cousin cognac, despite the fact that it is much older, and some people think that very fine Armagnac has a flavor superior to that of cognac. Many liquor stores, markets, and French specialty stores carry this brandy, and depending on where in the world you live, you may be able to directly order this brandy from artisan producers in France.
The origins of Armagnac appear to lie around the 12th century. This brandy is made from white wine grapes such as Colombard, Folle Blanche, Ugni Blanc, Piquepoul, and Baco 22A, a hybrid grape varietal. The grapes are pressed to make a dry wine which is distilled a single time, often using a column distillation technique, before being poured into black oak casks for aging. Because Armagnac is distilled only once, it has an alcohol content of around 53%, which is lower than some other brandies, and it also has a stronger fruit flavor, which can develop into a very complex and elegant mouthfeel if the Armagnac is aged sufficiently.
Typically, Armagnac is aged for at least two years, and sometimes much longer. It is possible to find Armagnacs which have aged for 40 years or more, along with blends of multiple vintages which are designed to showcase the best of various Armagnacs. Some producers also add substances like caramel to their Armagnacs to create an impression of age, although others frown upon this practice.
In France, Armagnac is typically consumed as a digestif, in a small amount at the conclusion of a meal. Most people drink it from glasses with broad bases and narrow tops, and typically one holds the base of the glass rather than the glass itself, as warming the glass causes a release of the alcohol aromas, which can overwhelm the natural fruitiness of a good Armagnac. It is also not uncommon to see Armagnac paired with various fruit and chocolate desserts, and sometimes cheeses as well.
When purchasing brandy from the Armagnac region, try to seek out some reviews of particular producers and vintages to find the best brandy in your price range. Some Armagnac can get extremely expensive, so it pays to check on reviews first to ensure that you get the best possible product. Be aware that Armagnac stops aging once it is bottled, so storing it for years will not make much of a difference in the flavor, although you should store your Armagnac in a cool, dry, dark place to avoid compromising the flavor.
Aren't hybrids such as Baco 22A illegal in the EU? Thanks, Craig