smoky single-malt scotches, well-aged tequilas - and a new favorite around my house, Armagnac. While most American drinkers are quite familiar with the classic digestif, Cognac, fewer have heard of its lesser-known, and less prolific cousin, Armagnac. But if you like your spirits with a little more feistiness, individuality, and spark, I encourage you to give this distinctive French brandy a try. But first things first: What exactly is Armagnac? Let's Start with the Name Celebrating its 700th anniversary this year, Armagnac is a grape-based brandy or eau de vie named for the region in the province of Gascony in South West France where it's made. (The town of Cognac, which makes its own eponymous spirit, is a little to the northeast of it.) "Armagnac," like "Cognac," is an appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC), or "controlled designation of origin," meaning that it comes from a specified geographical region and that its production methods are regulated by a French government bureau. Types of Armagnac Within the general appellation of Armagnac, there are four subcategories, plus some age designations:
- Bas-Armagnac, the most popular type of Armagnac, which comes from the western region of the area, known for its delicate, fruity spirits.
- Armagnac Tenarèze, which comes from the middle region known for its full-bodied spirits.
- Haut-Armagnac, a less prolific region in the south east corner of the area.
- Blanche Armagnac, a "white" spirit and a very recent addition to the AOC family. Long enjoyed by distillers informally at home, this clear, unaged spirit joined the commercial export roster in 2006.
- Last but not least, there are four designations referring to how long the spirit has been aged in oak barrels: VS (1-3 years), VSOP or Napoleon (4-9 years), XO or Hors d'Age (10+ years), and XO Premium (20+ years - this designation applies to vintages too)[Note: these age designations are newly revised and are being rolled out gradually. They may differ slightly from what currently appears on bottle labels.]