Our next spirits adventure will be visiting the world of Brandy: more specifically Cognac and Armagnac.
Cognac is a variety of brandy named after the town of Cognac, France. It is produced in the surrounding wine-growing region in the departments of Charente and Charente-Maritime
Cognac production falls under French Appellation d'origine contrôlée designation, with production methods and naming required to meet certain legal requirements. Among the specified grapes Ugni blanc, known locally as Saint-Emilion, is most widely used. The brandy must be twice distilled in copper pot stills and aged at least two years in French oak barrels from Limousin or Tronçais. Cognac matures in the same way as whiskies and wine barrel age, and most cognacs spend considerably longer "on the wood" than the minimum legal requirement.
Cognac is a type of brandy and, after the distillation and during the aging process, is also called eau de vie. It is produced by double distilling white wines produced in any of the designated growing regions.
According to the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC), the official quality grades of cognac are the following
V.S. (Very Special) or ✯✯✯ (three stars) designates a blend in which the youngest brandy has been stored for at least two years in cask.
V.S.O.P. (Very Superior Old Pale) or Reserve designates a blend in which the youngest brandy is stored for at least four years in a cask.
XO (Extra Old) or Napoléon currently designates a blend in which the youngest brandy is stored for at least six years. The minimum storage age of the youngest brandy used in an XO blend will be increased to ten years in April 2018; this rule was originally scheduled for implementation in 2016 but was postponed due to inadequate stocks. The Napoleon designation, previously unofficial, will then be used to specifically denote those blends with a minimum age of six years that do not meet the revised XO definition.
Hors d'âge (Beyond Age) is a designation which BNIC states is equal to XO, but in practice the term is used by producers to market a high-quality product beyond the official age scale
The names of the grades are in English because the historical cognac trade, particularly in the 18th century, significantly involved the British.
Armagnac is a distinctive kind of brandy produced in the Armagnac region in Gascony, southwest France. It is distilled from wine usually made from a blend of grapes including Baco 22A, Colombard, Folle blanche and Ugni blanc, traditionally using column stills rather than the pot stills used in the production of cognac. The resulting spirit is then aged in oak barrels before release. Production is overseen by the Institut national de l'origine et de la qualité (INAO) and the Bureau National Interprofessionel de l'Armagnac (BNIA)
Armagnac was one of the first areas in France to begin distilling spirits, but the overall volume of production is far smaller than cognac production and therefore is less known outside Europe. In addition, it is for the most part made and sold by small producers, whereas cognac production is dominated by big-name brands.
The Armagnac region lies between the Adour and Garonne rivers in the foothills of the Pyrenees. The region was granted AOC status in 1936. The official production area is divided into three districts that lie in the departments of Gers, Landes, and Lot-et-Garonne. The region contains 15,000 hectares (37,000 acres) of grape-producing vines. The Fallières Decree of 25 May 1909 describes the three districts:
Each of these areas is controlled by separate appellation regulations. More recently, a new appellation—"Blanche d'Armagnac"—was established to allow the production and export of clear, white brandies that are unaged.
Interested on trying and learning more about these amazing spirits? Join us at The Boathouse on the Bay on September 26 at 7:30pm! Reserve your spots through the Boathouse by calling the restaurant at (562) 493-1100. See you then!