Cognac vs Armagnac: Similarities, Differences, and How to Choose

French Wine Explorers | Saturday, May 30th 2020
Cognac vs Armagnac

Cognac vs Armagnac: Similarities, Differences, and How to Choose

Before we delve into the details, here is the main distinction between Cognac vs Armagnac:

A main difference between Cognac vs Armagnac is Armagnac is distilled once, while Cognac is twice distilled.

For Cognac lovers, that means a more refined drink. Those who prefer Armagnac discern a certain fiery quality, reflecting perhaps a touch of the Gascon terroir. The best Armagnac is indeed strong, but also smooth, and the XO at the top of the line costs just over half the price of comparable Cognac.

What is Cognac?

  • Cognac is a brandy, a spirit produced by distilling wine from grapes.
  • Cognac comes from a delimited region of western France, in the Charentes and Charentes-Maritimes.
  • There are six different crus of Cognac:
    • Grande Champagne
    • Petite Champagne
    • Borderies
    • Fins Bois
    • Bons Bois
    • Bois Ordinaires
    • The champagne crus are more subtle and elegant, while the last four, while differing, add flavor and depth.
    • Blending them is a prized art. And it is a mistake, to take these six different crus as indicating steps of ascending quality.
    • Some producers, like Rémy Martin, do specialize in the Grande and Petite Champagne crus with at least half Grande Champagne, producing a “fine champagne cognac,” while others blend all six together.
  • When a cognac is in the cask it is still aging – as soon as it is bottled, unlike fine wines, the aging stops.
  • Single vineyard cognacs have also grown in popularity. These blend brandies from different years, but from the same vineyard. Now the connoisseur of, for example, Borderies, may indulge a Park Borderies 15 Years Old Cognac.
  • When cognac is aging in oak casks, some of it escapes “le part des anges” (the angels’ share). The secluded storage area is Le Paradis.
  • Cognacs have various aging designations:
    • Cognacs have various aging designations, according to the governing Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac.
    • V.S. Cognac has spirits whose youngest brandy component is at least two years old.
    • V.S.O.P. doubles the requirement to four years.
    • X.O. requires that the youngest brandy be at least 10 years.
    • Since 2019, there is also now a new Cognac grade XXO (Extra Extra Old) for eaux de vie aged over 14 years in casks. 
Cognac is the great favorite. But what is Armagnac? Armagnac, from the départements of Landes and Gers south of Bordeaux, also has fervent admirers.

What is Armagnac?

It has been enjoyed since the 14th century. A Latin manuscript from 1310 praises the spirit for “conserving youth and retarding senility.” It comes from white grapes, Folle Blanche (floral notes) and Ugni Blanc (finesse). The grapes are harvested and then distilled and aged in casks to the spirits we enjoy.
  • Armagnac is a potent drink. The minimum alcohol content by law is 40% (80 proof), obtained by natural aging, or speeded up by the cellar master.
  • The ageing categories are
    • V.S. (at least two years old)
    • V.S.O.P. or Reserve (at least six years old)
    • Hors d’Age (at least ten years old).
    • The older the spirit, the smoother it will be, and the best producers exceed these aging requirements.
    • But bear in mind that, like Cognac, Armagnac no longer ages once bottled. And so a treasured bottle of 1967 Armagnac, which was bottled from the cask in 1977, is just ten years old – not 45!

So what should you consider when buying a Cognac vs an Armagnac?

Cognacs have great finesse, and Armagnac can be considered a newly popular alternative by connoisseurs. Like your favorite wine, pay close attention to large and small producers, ageing, and cost to provide you with the maximum value and pleasure.  When in doubt, buy one of each of the same age for a great comparative study of Cognac vs Armagnac!

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