Is Armagnac the same as Cognac? It’s a very good question—one much-asked and a subject that Cognac Expert are delighted to shed some light upon.
Before we delve into the nitty gritty of discussing the difference between Armagnac and Cognac, let’s first determine some very important similarities.
- Both Cognac and Armagnac are brandies
- Both are produced in France
- Both are made from grapes
- Both are aged in oak barrels
- Both can only carry the name if they’re produced in a specific region of France and are created in accordance with a strict set of rules
Looking at this we can see that the two spirits have much in common. However, there are many distinctions between the two. So let’s take a look at these in more detail.
Cognac vs. Armagnac: Where are they produced?
While both are produced in France, the region each is made is very different. One very important aspect is that, although the Cognac and Armagnac regions are only separated geographically by around 300km, the soil in the two areas is very different. That of the Cognac regions is predominantly chalk, but in Armagnac the grapes grow in quartz sand, siliceous clay, and riverbed sediment.
This creates a significant difference in the flavors of the grapes that grow, and, indeed, the easiest varieties that best flourish. We’ll talk a little more about this in a moment. But first, let’s concentrate on the individual regions.
Where is Cognac made?
Cognac is produced in South West France, in a wide-spread location north of the city of Bordeaux that covers much of the department of the Charente, the Charente-Maritime, and some small parts the Dordogne and Deux-Sèvres.
The growth area is divided into six distinct terroirs:
- Grande Champagne
- Petite Champagne
- Fins Bois
- Bons Bois
- Bois Ordinaires
Discover more about the Cognac terroirs in our article, The Six Crus of Cognac: Growth area and region.
Where is Armagnac made?
Armagnac is also produced in South West France, but in a region known as the Pays de Gascogne. This is found west of the city of Toulouse and extends between the rivers of the Adour and the Garonne, in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains. Although it covers an extensive landscape there are only around 37,000 hectares of vineyards, from which around 6 million bottles of Armagnac are produced each year. (This is a drop in the ocean compared with more than 217 million bottles produced in 2019).
In the same way as the Cognac growth region, that of Armagnac is also divided into different terroirs:
Cognac vs. Armagnac: The legalities
Both Armagnac and Cognac have strict rules as to where they’re produced, the distillation process, and other legalities. Both were granted AOC status in 1936 (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée), which gives both brandies the legal right to the sole use of their respective names.
The BNIC is the ruling body for Cognac (Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac) and for Armagnac it’s the BNIA (Bureau National Interprofessionnel de l’Armagnac)
Cognac vs. Armagnac: Grapes and distillation
The type of grapes used and the distillation process are two aspects where Cognac and Armagnac differ quite dramatically.
The different grape varieties
When it comes to Cognac, the most common grape in use today is the Ugni Blanc. However, as cellar masters push boundaries and vie to bring ever-eager consumers more choice and facets of aroma and flavors we’re beginning to see other grape varieties entering the mainstream. These include Folle Blanche, Colombard, and Montils.
Armagnac, on the other hand, has historically utilized a wider combination of the fruit. The Ugni Blanc accounts for just over half of all Armagnac produced, followed by Baco (previously known as Baco 22A), Folle Blanche, and Colombard.
Single and double distillation
The distillation process represents an important difference between the two spirits. In short, Cognac is double distilled and Armagnac is single distilled. With Cognac the process is carried out in pot stills, whereas Armagnac undergoes the magic within column stills. The different process leads to a distinct difference in the texture of each drink. Armagnac is much thicker than Cognac—a little like vodka from the freezer has a different mouthfeel to that drunk at room temperature.
Sales & Marketing: A huge difference between Armagnac and Cognac
Cognac, as you’re undoubtedly aware, has massive global appeal. Much of this is due to the might of big house advertising, such as that from Hennessy, Remy Martin, Martell, and Courvoisier. The mid-sized houses also advertise aggressively, pushing their wares into countries all around the globe.
The world of Armagnac is very different. There are no major houses, no multi-million dollar marketing budgets, and certainly no industrial-level production. The largest of all Armagnac houses is Maison Janneau, based in the town of Condom in the Gers. Other brands of note include Chateau de Tariquet, Duc Moisans, and Chateau de Laubade.
The most important thing to understand about Armagnac production is that virtually all the houses are small, artisan affairs that use a centuries-old distillation method that creates highly unique, rustic brandies. The taste journey differs greatly from house to house, and even from producers that grow grapes in the same terroir or town. This definitely is one of Armagnac’s charms—the individual nuances that come from such small scale production.
One last thing that we should mention is the far more common presentation of vintages found in Armagnac production. A large proportion of bottles are sold by age classification of the year of harvest, such as the Armagnac Duc Moisans Millésime 1979 and the Armagnac Duc Moisans Millésime 2001.
The spirit still has the same official qualities as Cognac, namely:
- VS and *** – 1-3 years
- VSOP – 4-9 years
- Napoleon – 6-9 years
- XO, Hors d’Age and Vintages – 10+ years
How to Buy Armagnac when you don’t Live in France
As you can see, the difference between Armagnac and Cognac is pretty distinctive—even through the two share much of their genetic makeup, they are two very different products. While most definitely homologous, the spirits aren’t quite close enough to be considered siblings—we think the term ‘cousins’ is a more accurate description.
Of course, the ultimate method of discovering the individual nuances of each is through taste. While Armagnac is typically challenging to purchase for those living outside of the Pays de Gascogne region of South West France, we at Cognac Expert are delighted to be able to ship a hand-picked selection to you, whatever country you reside in.
Find out more on our dedicated Armagnac page, where you can further discover intricacies about the spirit and purchase a bottle or two for your own home taste-test.