What's in Cognac and Armagnac?

May 5th, 2008, 06:22 PM
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What's in Cognac and Armagnac?

Calling all French spirits experts. My SO claims he has heard that Cognac and Armagnac both have prune juice or some kind of prune extract in them. I dunno. It makes sense to me, since plums are a major product of the Gascogne area, but I would think that AOC regulations would require that the addition of anything like prune extract be noted on the bottle.

I don't care what's in them. I love both Cognac and Armagnac.

Any experts out there who'd care to comment?
StCirq is online now  
May 5th, 2008, 06:35 PM
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Not an expert, but often I have seen recipes calling for prunes poached in Armagnac, so maybe this is the connection, that they go well together.
grandmere is offline  
May 5th, 2008, 06:46 PM
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no, don't think so, but I wanted to share this with you and others, like my friend Abby ehose so lovrs armagnac.

cigalechanta is offline  
May 5th, 2008, 06:53 PM
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I know that they go well together, and that plums/prunes are a big item in Gascony - but my question is actually aimed at whether the liquors actually contain prune juice and how that reconciles with their (presumed) AOC designations. I mean, if prune juice is a component of either Armagnac or Cognac, who controls that and where is it documented?
StCirq is online now  
May 5th, 2008, 06:55 PM
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When I toured the Remy Martin operation in Cognac, I didn't see any prunes or hear mention of extracts. But truth is stranger than fiction, so while I'm not inclined to think they are a part of the mix, I won't rule anything out myself. (And I keep a bottle of X.O. for an occasional treat.)
Flyboy is offline  
May 5th, 2008, 07:00 PM
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Grape juice, distilled. No plums or prunes.
alan64 is offline  
May 5th, 2008, 07:07 PM
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Hello St.Cirq. I don't know but this is a website from Google.


My late husband loved Five Star Hennesy (sp?) Cognac and although I like the taste of it for some reason it gave me a splitting headache.
LoveItaly is offline  
May 5th, 2008, 07:11 PM
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Oh, Cigale,I love that link! I shall dab a bit of Cognac or Armagnac on the back of my hand the next time I imbibe - makes perfect sense!
StCirq is online now  
May 5th, 2008, 07:14 PM
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Armagnac and Cognac, commonly referred to as brandy, are distilled sprits made from the skins of grapes. Cognac, which is highly controlled, can only come from the Cognac region. Armagnac, which is the same as Cognac, has a slightly wider area to work from, has a larger variety. Both can be very expensive.
Robert2533 is offline  
May 5th, 2008, 07:56 PM
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We came across this small attractive Armagnac shop on the Blvd. Haussmann. It was closed but I'd love to go back when they're open.

cw is offline  
May 5th, 2008, 11:59 PM
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Goodness. Your SO needs a trip to your house SOON!

Armagnac(and cognac) have nothing to do with prunes, although as others have commented you will often see pruneaux (esp d'Agen)steeped in armagnac for sale or as part of your pudding.

It's made from distilled wine, and what differntiates it from cognac is that it's distilled in an alambic still. There are three "areas" in Gascony producing armagnac and the liquor bears their name- Haut Armagnac, Bas- Armagnac and Tenareze.

Me, I think Armagnac is head and shoulders better than cognac, and I would heartily recommend a visit to the armagnac museum in Condom.
sheila is offline  
May 6th, 2008, 01:11 AM
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Wow, cigalechanta, after reading that article I think I am jealous of a bottle of Armagnac.

cw, thanks for the link to The House of Castarède. We will definitely make it a stop on our next trip to Paris. The other places we have found Armagnac is at Lavinia-a whole wall of Armagnacs going back to 1900 or so and at Helene Darozze whose family are Armagnac producers with a great reputation.
AGM_Cape_Cod is online now  
May 6th, 2008, 04:56 AM
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Both cognac and armagnac are distilled white wine, in the same way that whiskey (whisky, no "e" in the case of Scotch) is basically distilled beer. Both are considered "brandies," a more generic term that comes from the Dutch word "brandewijn" meaning "burnt wine."

Along with many other quality liquors around the world, Cognac and some Armagnacs are made in alambic stills, also known as pot stills. Most Armagnac is made in column stills, which are a type of so-called "continuous still." Continuous stills are often used to produce inferior liquors, though that is certainly not true in the case of Argmanac, which can be very fine indeed.

The primary difference between the two is that true Cognac comes only from the Cognac region, just north of Bordeaux, and Argmanac comes from further south, as others have indicated. Climatic differences, different soil types, and different production and aging processes produce consistent flavor differences between the two products, though both are more-or-less similar liquors. Generally, Cognac is considered to be more refined (some might say less flavorful), with Armagnac described as more robust and rich.

Cognacs, and I believe Armagnacs though my experience with them is limited, are blends, and each house (Courvoisier, Remy Martin, etc.) has its own characteristic style. Within a house line, longer aging in cask results in a better product, with the sequence being VS ("Very Superior," which it's not), VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale) and XO (eXtra Old??). Those designations are specified by the French government, with XO generally being composed of Cognacs with about 30 years of aging. Beyond that there is no legal distinction, but most houses make a number of super-premium Cognacs with extended aging. The term "Napoleon Brandy" has no legal significance, and in my experience generally designates an inferior product.

When I can afford it, I like XO Cognac, which has gotten far too expensive for more than occasional drinking, with Delamain Vesper - sort of an XO+ - being a particular favorite.
FlyFish is offline  
May 6th, 2008, 11:38 PM
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FlyFish, we've got some different answers here, and I would like to know the story for certain. I know a lot about whisky (no "e") and a fair bit about armagnac although I'm still at the bottom of the learning curve there.

I was about to type that I knew that a pot still was not the same as an alambic still, and I have certainly not seen any armagnac still that looks anything like a whisky still- which I would call a pot sill; but on reading a bit more, I see alambics referred to as pot stills too.

Certainly alambic stills do continous distilling, unlike whisky stills which have two processes. I unerstand that Cognac which I don't like nearly as much as armagnac, is distilled twice, as opposed to armagnac which is the product of continuous ditillation. It is, effectively a "single" which can therefore be dated, whereas cognac (unlike armagnac) is a blend. So basically, we're talking about the difference between Chivas Regal and the Macallan.

Now, I'm serious about learning about this stuff, so if I'm wrong, please enlighten.
sheila is offline  
May 7th, 2008, 04:55 AM
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Sheila, as I indicated in my post, I am less familiar with Armagnac than Cognac, so rather than rely on my admittedly imperfect knowledge, before posting I turned to Alexis Lichine's Encyclopedia of Wine and Spirits and Gordon Brown's Handbook of Fine Brandies for authoritative information on Armagnac and distilling processes.

There (and elsewhere - I checked a few other sources) it's clear that the term "alambic" (or "alembic," the two spellings seem to be used interchangeably) is commonly - but perhaps incorrectly - used to refer to a pot still, the type of still that is used (primarily) to distill Scotch, Irish Whiskey, and Cognac. Technically, "alambic" refers only to the upper portion of the distilling vessel, with the base being called the "cucurbit," but standard usage now is to to use alambic to mean the entire thing. I believe that's where some of the confusion comes in, because both pot and continuous stills have a portion that (in the original technical sense) is an alambic. More importantly, however, is that pot stills are operated in a batch mode, which means they need to be emptied and refilled after each distillation. The product of the first distillation is captured and distilled a second time in the case of Cognac and most (I believe) whiskies, but it's still a batch, rather than continuous, process.

Armagnac, according to Lichine, is primarily made in column stills, which are a type of continuous still. Because, as I indicated above, part of the still is an alambic, they are also sometimes called "alambic continuous stills," which just adds to the confusion. As the name indicates, they can be run more-or-less continuously and don't need to be stopped for recharging. Originally, Argmanac was also made in pot stills, but the column still became common in the 19th century and was eventually dictated by law in 1936. The use of this type of still allows more of the flavor components to carry over into the final product, which results in one of the major distinguishing features of Armagnac as opposed to Cognac.

None of that is related to the question of vintage vs. a multi-year blend, and in fact the considerable majority of both Cognac and Armagnac is a blended rather than vintage product. I'm not sure you intended to use "single" as a synonym for "vintage." I understand the term "single," as applied to whisky, to mean the product of a single distillery, not the product of a single year (i.e., a vintage). That aside, there are some single-property, single-vintage brandies made in both Armagnac and Cognac, more commonly in Armagnac, but they are the exception.

I, too, am interested in expanding my knowledge, so if any of that sounds incorrect to you - particularly concerning Armagnac, about which I am sure your experience greatly exceeds mine, please let me know. Regardless, I think we can agree that (as I believe Benjamin Franklin once said concerning beer) both products are a clear sign that God loves us and want us to be happy.
FlyFish is offline  
May 7th, 2008, 05:33 AM
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Good info, FlyFish. I only disagree on one point: "The use of [a column] type of still allows more of the flavor components to carry over into the final product, which results in one of the major distinguishing features of Armagnac as opposed to Cognac."

In most cases, a pot still will produce a more flavorful spirit vs a column still. However, there are factors such as how tall the pot still is (the taller, the more refined the spirit). Another factor is how big of a "cut" is taken. Distillers normally don't use the first and last parts of a pot still batch, but rather take a center cut. The smaller the cut also makes the spirit more refined. The stuff not used may go back into the next batch.

I think the double-distillation is a main reason why Cognac is more refined but less flavorful than Armagnac, not the fact that Armagnac is made in a column still.
alan64 is offline  
May 7th, 2008, 05:55 AM
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Yes, Alan, I agree and thanks for the clarification. What I meant, but failed to say clearly, is that the pot still as used in Cognac, i.e., double distillation, carries over less flavor than the continuous still as used in Armagnac. (And I suspect even that is an oversimplification, as there is the issue of how the feints and low wines are handled, as you indicated.)
FlyFish is offline  

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