Cognac & Armagnac: Cranked on that 'Nyack!

Scott Charles

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Like most kick-ass intoxicants, brandy was stumbled upon by accident. Alchemist were attempting to harness the power of the elements to produce the most precious of metals, gold, but they harnessed the powers of wine and, instead, produced liquid gold. Originally, brandy was prescribed as medicine to cure wounds, restore memory, and provide courage to the faint of heart, but since then it has been used to self-medicate both rappers and grandfathers alike. The most recognizable brandy in the world is arguably cognac, but cognac and armagnac are basically the same thing with a few important differences. Simply put, they are both distilled wine from their respective name-sake regions and both spend time in oak, although the aging requirements and oak types vary. Cognac is generally made from the Ugni Blanc grape whereas Armagnac allows the addition of Folle Blanche, Colombard, and Baco Blanc. Cognac undergoes two distillations which removes more impurities but increases the harshness of the final product. This means that it needs more time in oak before it is ready for consumption. Armagnac gets one distillation and is said to be a more complex and truer expression of the grapes. The very first documentation of oak aged brandy was in 1310 and was in reference to Armagnac, so while cognac reigns supreme it is preceded by its older brother by many decades. Very few liquors boast a reputation quite like Cognac. The word alone makes one want to turn their nose in the air and adjust their bowtie. Cognac has forever been associated with rich white dudes in dining cars with over-sized snifters conversing over last quarter’s earnings. For centuries, brandy has been affiliated with the well-off until the ’90’s. Rap and hip-hop artists took the spirit and made it their own. While remaining a symbol of high-status, the rap industry caused the demand for brandy to sky-rocket. Thankfully, the music industry has stripped away some of the pretension from the spirit so we can all get cranked on that ‘nyack and that durban.

Chateau de Montifaud

Chateau de Montifaud has remained a family run operation for 6 generations so there is no doubt that they know how to make excellent cognac. Established in 1837, Chateau de Montifaud started with only 3 hectares. Now this domain boasts over 120 hectares stretching over the Grand and Petite Champagne regions in Cognac. The grapes are estate grown which means they are grown and distilled in the same location. Their brandy is a blend of Ugni Blanc and Folle Blanche grapes. Here at Vine Arts we regularly have their VS and VSOP on the shelves.

Montifaud VS $55.50

The VS on this bottle refers to how much time the brandy has spent in oak. In order to wear this badge the brandy must have spent at least two years in oak. This particular blend exceeds the minimum and has seen 10 months in new french oak and 4-6 years in old oak. The younger of the two bottles displays a fresh and youthful character with fruity notes of pears, apples and cantaloupe. Drink over ice or in a cocktail. A Brandy Alexander would suit this bottle well.

Montifaud VSOP $66

VSOP stands for “Very Superior Old Pale” and requires the blend to spend at least 4 years in oak. Once again CdM exceeds the aging requirement and lays this brandy down for more than 8 years. This amount of time in the barrel allows the VSOP to develop a more distinct oaky aroma and flavour. Fresh fruits begin to fade and flavours of dried apricot and pear shine through. Oak flavours such as brown sugar, vanilla, hazelnut, and pepper start to emerge. Enjoy this one neat or over ice.

Darroze

Darroze are extremely particular about putting out a product that is expressive of the terroir and variety used. Sourcing fruit from all around Bas-Armagnac they have a collection that extends back to the ’40’s. In their “Unique Collection,” they refuse to blend their brandies between domains as it would wipe away the character of the soil, climate and variety. Each product is from a single estate and of a single vintage. They recommend that no water be added to their spirit before drinking as it would dilute the aromatic potential and erases the difference between terroir’s.

1968 Domaine de Bellair $375.50

The 1968 Domaine de Bellair is a blend of 60% Baco Blanc and 40% Ugni Blanc from 60 year old vines. This armagnac drinks surprisingly young at this age with aromas of candied fruit, brioche and toast.

The Les Grands Assemblages collection from Darroze is the result of the Darroze family using centuries of expertise to seek out the best Grand Crus of the Bas-Armagnac. From these prime locations, Darroze has put the diversity of terroirs to good use in their “Grand Blends,” which are age-stated with the youngest of a many vintage blend noted on the label.

Les Grands Assemblages 12 Ans d’Age $76

The younger vintages of this great blend bring fresh, apricoty fruit, while older vintages bring that classic armagnac spicy complexity. After about 10 years in oak, the eau de vie starts to show signs of age, with notes of chocolate and dried fruit starting to mingle with the fresh fruit character inherent to the spirit. With 12 years being the youngest on the blend, this brandy still has a bit of a kick, but mellows with time in the glass.

These armagnacs are a real treat to have on the shelves and should be reserved for a special occasion. Drink ‘em neat or else I’m comin’ for ya.