Armagnac is a dry, golden brandy distilled in the district extending into the Landes and Lot and Garonne départements, divided into three distinct areas: Haut-Armagnac (around Auch), Ténarèze (Condom) and Bas-Armagnac (Éauze), in ascending order of output and quality. Growers of the grape like to compare brandy with whisky, equating malts with the individualistic, earthy Armagnac distilled by small producers, and blended whiskies with the more consistent, standardized output of the large-scale houses. Armagnac grapes are grown on sandy soils and, importantly, the wine is distilled only once, giving the spirit a lower alcohol content but more flavour. Aged in local black oak, Armagnac matures quickly, so young Armagnacs are relatively smoother than corresponding Cognacs.
Distilled originally for medicinal reasons, Armagnac has many claims heaped upon it. Perhaps the most optimistic are those of the priest of Éauze de St-Mont, who held that the eau de vie cured gout and hepatitis. More reasonably, he also wrote that it “stimulates the spirit if taken in moderation, recalls the past, gives many joys, above all else, conserves youth. If one retains it in the mouth, it unties the tongue and gives courage to the timid.”
Many of the producers welcome visitors and offer tastings, whether you go to one of the bigger chais (storehouse) of Condom or Éauze, or follow a faded sign at the bottom of a farm track. For more information, contact the Bureau National Interprofessionnel de l’Armagnac (wcognacnet.com/armagnac).