Armagnac is the "other French Brandy," the country cousin to the better known Cognac. Liquor.com has a thumbnail sketch of the spirit.
[Armagnac] comes from a small region in southwest France (the entire appellation contains less than 10,000 acres) that is home to 500 independent brands and 300 co-ops producing about six million bottles per year. (Compare that to nearby Cognac, where a few huge brands produce the vast majority of the roughly 150 million bottles sold per year.)
Armagnac can be made from 10 different types of grape, but four are the most common: ugni blanc, Baco blanc, folle blanche and colombard. The first two varieties make up nearly 90 percent of the harvest, but the latter two bring a lot to the final blend. Folle blanche is very acidic, which can turn into floral and fruity notes in the glass; colombard is spicy and vegetal.
The article also has information on the distillation process, the different ages of Armagnacs, and some of the brands.
Topping it off are two recipes for cocktails, including Toby Cecchini's Nippongi-San, a variation of the Japanese Cocktail made with Armagnac. I haven't made one of these yet — I don't have any Armagnac on hand — but I'm looking forward to trying it one of these days.
By Toby Cecchini
2 oz XO Armagnac
1/2 oz Cointreau
1 oz Lemon juice
1/2 oz Orgeat
3 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
Add all the ingredients to a shaker and fill with ice. Shake, and strain into a coupe or cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist.
This recipe is based on Jerry Thomas’ Japanese Cocktail.
Addendum: By coincidence last night, I read Jason Wilson's latest column in the Washington Post. The topic? "Armagnac appreciation 101." I guess something's in the air. It's a very interesting and useful column, as Jason's work always is.
Jason points out that there is a surplus of Armagnac in the storage houses of French distilleries, a result of the downturn in the world economy and the paucity of brands with major marketing budgets. As a result:
At $40 to $45 for VSOP or $50 to $60 for XO, you'll be drinking an unbelievable brandy that is a better value than similarly priced cognacs. And with Armagnac, you don't have to deal with the markup associated with cognacs that come in special crystal decanters. Look for brands such as Dartigalongue, Chateau du Busca, Delord, Castarede, Tariquet, Chateau Pellehaut, Larressingle and Chateau de Labaude. If your liquor store doesn't carry Armagnac, demand that it special-order some immediately.
I think I'll do just that.