Grapes of Wrath
It must have been trying times, for sure. Once all that was sorted out someone got the bright idea to ferment the edible fruit and convert it to alcohol, somewhere around 7000 BCE. Grapes stood out. Sherry, Brandy, Port, Madeira, Grappa, Wine, and many other wonderful libations all owe quite a bit to the versatile grape. Today, we’ll be taking a closer look at Brandy, specifically Cognac and its underrated step brother, Armagnac.
The word Brandy comes to us from the Dutch word Brandewijn which translates to "burned wine." This is because all Brandy is made from wine, similar to the same way all Whiskey is made from beer. At the start of the process, it is Eau-de-Vie (pronounced Oh da Vee and translates to "water of life”) until the aging process begins and the spirit is no longer clear. At that point it's proper Brandy. There are certain classifications we have all seen but few people know what they actually mean.
Let's go to school!
VS – Very Special, the brandy in here is guaranteed to be at least 2 years old.
VSOP – Very Special Old Pale, at least 4 years old.
XO – Extra Old, at least 6 years old.
All Cognac and Armagnac are Brandies, but not all Brandy is Cognac and Armagnac. Make sense? It's just like what Champagne is to sparkling wine. Even though they are both Brandies, Cognac and Armagnac are certainly different beasts.
- Uses a blend of vineyards and one single vintage.
- Uses mainly Ugni Blanc grapes.
- Must be made in Cognac France, south of Bordeaux.
- Uses grapes from a single vineyard and vintages.
- In addition to Ugni Blanc, there is also Folle Blanche, Colombard, and Bacco varieties.
- Must be made in the Armagnac region in region in France, north of Bordeaux.
The distillation process is different and designated right down to the type of equipment you are allowed to use if you want Cognac or Armagnac on your label. The rules are strict but it is to ensure consistent quality coming out of that region. All these different factors make different spirits. Cognac is lighter, smoother, more oak, where as Armagnac tends to be fuller bodied, fruitier, more vanilla, toffee and slightly more complex in general. If Cognac is Tequila, then Armagnac is Mezcal. It’s lesser known, smokier, and underrated.
Have a side by side tasting and compare for yourself! I recommend Martell VS Cognac 750 up against Chateau Du Tariquet VS Armagnac. Two excellent entries in their respective categories. Cheers!