Discover the complex French brandy with one of these superior bottles
It may not have the bling factor of cognac, but this characterful and historic French brandy is certainly rich in flavour.
With its status as the beloved tipple of hip hop stars and rap moguls, cognac has long stolen the spotlight and claimed a place as perhaps one of the most well-known types of brandy. But Armagnac – known for being France’s first brandy – can rightly claim to be one of the most flavoursome.
So, what’s the difference? Made in the Gascony region of France typically by small producers, ten different grape varieties are allowed to be used in Armagnac production, though four – Baco 22A, colombard, Folle Blanche, and ugni blanc – are most common.
And while both cognac and Armagnac are French brandies distilled from white wine grapes, Armagnac is crucially distilled just once, keeping the idiosyncrasies of the wines rather than smoothing them out. Cognac must be distilled twice.
What are should you be looking for when you buy it? And why is there such a vast difference in price between some Armagnacs? To add extra character the resulting spirit is aged in oak barrels.
As a general rule, the longer the ageing, the higher the price and the more complex the flavour. Classifications include VS, a mix of several Armagnacs aged for at least two years, VSOP, aged at least three years, and XO, aged for at least ten.
In short, a flavoursome Armagnac needn’t break the bank; we’ve focused on the best value options as well as the best tasting in our roundup of some of the best.
You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn a commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.
Chateau Pellehaut XO la fleur de l’age Armagnac
This beautiful brandy has spent 20 years in cask, slowly developing its rich flavour. Produced by the Béraut family, who have over 300 years of history at the Chateau Pellehaut, at the heart of the Armagnac appellation, this blend of ugni blanc is nutty with a tangy sweetness upfront. Rich, thick and complex, there’s dried fruit, vanilla of course, and a long lingering peppery finish.
Baron de Sigognac VS Armagnac
Though this is the entry-level Armagnac from this esteemed producer, we think it stands out as representing particularly great value for money. Aged for a minimum of two years, we love how approachable this expression is. Fruity, there’s hints of stewed apples, toasted nuts, and a soft, cinnamon-laced finish. Though a little thinner in the body from many others on our list, it’s still utterly delicious.
Delord Bas-Armagnac l’authentique
Something truly special, of course, comes with a special price tag. We’re not suggesting this is the Armagnac for you if you’re new to the spirit. But if you’re already a brandy fan and looking for something that’s a real treat, then look no further. This brandy is a blend of very old Armagnacs that have been aged an average of 30 years in oak barrels selected to represent the most typical flavour notes from Delord. There’s almost something grassy about the nose, followed by a heavy waft of vanilla, and a smidge of coffee. To sip, you get creamy fudge, a little banana, prunes and roasted notes, all with an exceptionally long, smooth but chewy finish. Yum.
Château de Laubade VSOP Bas Armagnac
The historic Château de Laubade stands out for a few reasons. One, the brand’s wines come from its own 260 acres of single vineyard. And secondly, it is the only Armagnac house coopering its own casks. Their VSOP is a blend of more than 20 different Eaux de vie, from ugni blanc and Folle Blanche, completed with colombard and baco and aged from 6 to 12 years. There’s something slightly funky on the nose, akin to dried tobacco. Sweeter than many others, but also very fruity, the thick, smooth brandy has comforting notes of spiced fig and honey.
Janneau grand XO Armagnac
This much-lauded tipple comes from what is claimed to be the world’s most awarded Armagnac house. International spirit competitions have awarded Janneau more medals than any other producer. Though Janneau has many Armagnacs in its arsenal, we’ve chosen this one for its accessibility. Taste-wise that is. No, this brandy deservedly doesn’t come cheap. This flagship blend marries eau de vie aged in French Limousin oak casks for at least 12 years, resulting in beautiful lemon notes, and a hint of caramel.
Castarède XO 20 years old Armagnac
Once voted the world’s best Armagnac, at the World Armagnac Awards, we think this rich, full-bodied brandy represents excellent value, considering it’s sat in casks for twenty years. Powerful, nutty, and a little oily, there’s satisfying and moreish notes of chocolate, marzipan, plums and cinnamon. We especially like its long dry finish. This is one to truly sip and savour.
Comte de Lauvia fine Armagnac
You can’t argue with the price of this entry-level expression from the award-winning producer, Comte de Lauvia. Made from a blend of Eaux de vie from ugni blanc, Baco blanc, and Folle Blanche grapes, aged from four to seven years. This is a lively brandy, with notes of caramel, toffee and burnt sugar upfront, with some smooth vanilla notes and a hint of acidity with a touch of lemon, and a little spice.
Francois Darroze Les Grands assemblages 8-year-old Armagnac,
For the true armagnac fan, Darroze has some exceptionally smooth and delectable liquids in their repertoire, including their rather special 30-year-old tipple. However, we’re particular fans of this relatively young, 8-year-old vintage. With fruity, almost tropical qualities, there are mellow flavours of tea, apricots and a little nuttiness too.