Cognac Versus Armagnac
Although it is commonly compared with cognac, armagnac is in fact uniquely flavoured due to Armagnacs unique manufacturing processes, along with other differences that we highlighted above. Armagnac is considered a much more artisanal brandy compared to cognac, since it is typically made by locally owned, family-owned producers instead of big, industrial companies.
When it comes to the grapes, the contrast between its most famous competitor and Armagnac is all the more obvious. Its younger brother is exported only sparingly, continuing to be consumed mostly within France. The distinction between these two regions use of the grape varieties comes from Armagnac producing wines intended to be consumed, not distilled. The differences in the use of the varieties among these regions stem from the fact that Armagnac produces wine intended for consumption without being distilled, something which is definitely not the case with Cognac.
The white wines from Cognac, being highly acidic, are nearly un drinkable, whereas those of Armagnac are quite enjoyable. Both Armagnac and Cognac are made using wines which are very thin, quite acidic, which would not certainly be winning any awards in the global arena. Because of its brewing, the production of Armagnac is less refined than that of Cognac, although this does not mean that it tastes less.
While Cognac is double-distilled using a pot still, Armagnac goes through column distillation, although this is far different than large, modern industrial stills typically used for making neutral spirits such as vodka. The vast majority of Armagnac is produced using the Armagnac Continuous Pot Still (column distillation). In Armagnac, one common use is a single pot still, an alambic, allowing for a continuous distillation. Both regions then distill these thinner base wines into brandy, but while Cognac goes through two rounds of distillation in a pot still, Armagnac usually goes through just one in a column still.
The first key difference is that Armagnac is almost always only distilled once, while Cognacs eau-de-vie is distilled twice. Cognac, by contrast, is distilled twice in a still, bringing it up to about 70% ABV. Cognac that is distilled twice would be about 70 percent, diluted down to about 40 percent. Armagnac will come out around 52 % to 60 %, and then diluted to between 47 % and 47 %. In comparison, armagnac goes through just a single distillation process which will take the armagnac up to about 60%. Armagnac is not distilled twice; it goes through one distillation process.
Because Armagnac is only distilled once, Armagnac is probably of greater benefits when consumed in moderation compared to cognac. It is exported at a far lower rate than cognac, and is mostly made by smaller producers, many of which rely on roving mobile stills that are set up to be distilled locally following a harvest. For one thing, while Armagnac is made from the Ugni Blanc grape, cognac is made mostly from that grape (about 98%), but Armagnac has much more variety, being made from the Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche, Colombard, and Barton grapes.
In Cognac, Ugni Blanc accounts for around 97 percent of the output, whereas in Armagnac, the grape makes up around 55 percent of the production (the rest being mainly Folle Blanche, Colombard, and Bacco). The One is loved here for much the same reasons it is loved there in its better-known competitors, producing wines of heightened acidity and lower alcohol, which lend themselves perfectly to distillation -- giving Armagnacs their precision, their exquisite fruit, their equanimity. Drinkable, quite enjoyable, white wines are made at Armagnac (examples include Cotes de Saint Mont and Cotes de Gascogne).
Because most Armagnacs are once-distilled, and the Armagnac is not always dilute prior to bottling, the Armagnacs tend to retain more flavours and characteristics from the wines vintage used to produce them. Cognac is distilled in copper pot stills known as Alembic Charentais, whereas Armagnac is made with column/continuous style stills (as is done with Scotch wheat whiskey). Armagnac is generally distilled lower in alcohol than cognac, and may take at least a year to mature for the status of VC (Very Special).
Armagnacs will also usually use Baco 22a, which is not permitted for cognac. Armagnac has the option to use both types of distillation, whereas Cognac is allowed only the Charentais distillation. Some producers of Armagnac combine eau-de-vies of both types of distillation. Experts say Cognacs eau de vie is stronger (distilled twice) and therefore better, since it uses only the distillates core.
In Cognac, 97% of the grape varieties used are Ugni blanc, also present in Armagnac (55%). Armagnac may be aged in Limousin Oak, but also Armagnac is made in Gascon Oak, whereas cognac is occasionally aged in Troncais Oak. Armagnac is made by distilling wine, fermented with the local grape varieties, that is then aged in 400-litre oak barrels for a few years. The cognac is supposed to have been matured for at least two years in oak barrels before being released, but is usually aged for considerably longer.
While armagnacs indeed make blendings like cognacs, and employ similar aging classifications, there is much more focus on the year-to-year variations in production volume and flavor. Like cognac, Armagnacs are available in different categorizations, but whereas Cognacs are almost always blended with various vintages, Armagnacs are usually sold as one-year vintages -- something that can be quite special, and definitely captures the imagination of potential buyers.
The end result, then, can be quite different: A younger Armagnac, heavy, earthy, and powerfully aromatic, has very little in common with a well-aged Cognac, which offers complex, refined aromas and exquisite textural qualities Armagnacs - with some exceptions - lack. While Armagnac is, undoubtedly, Frances oldest eau de vie, its younger brother, Cognac, is most popular outside of its home country.