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.

The Differences Between Armagnac and Cognac: All You Need To Know
An ancient bottle of Armagnac

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. 

The Differences Between Armagnac and Cognac: All You Need To Know
The Armagnac and Cognac regions are around 300km apart

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
  • Borderies
  • Fins Bois
  • Bons Bois
  • Bois Ordinaires
The Differences Between Armagnac and Cognac: All You Need To Know
The terrors of the Cognac region

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:

  • Bas-Armagnac
  • Armagnac-Ténarèze
  • Haut-Armagnac
The Differences Between Armagnac and Cognac: All You Need To Know
The terroir of the Armagnac region

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.

The Differences Between Armagnac and Cognac: All You Need To Know
Different grapes are used in the creation of Cognac and Armagnac

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.

The Differences Between Armagnac and Cognac: All You Need To Know
Cognac is double distilled whereas Armagnac is single distilled

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 HennessyRemy MartinMartell, and Courvoisier. The mid-sized houses also advertise aggressively, pushing their wares into countries all around the globe.

The Differences Between Armagnac and Cognac: All You Need To Know
The large Cognac houses have massive advertising budgets

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 Differences Between Armagnac and Cognac: All You Need To Know
Many Armagnacs are bottled as a vintage

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. 

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Author

Jacki has been with Cognac Expert from virtually the beginning. She's the senior editor of the blog, and has spent much of her life living in rural France. Today she's based back in the UK, where she splits her working life between writing for Cognac Expert and working as a Paramedic at a large regional hospital.

8 Comments

  1. Avatar

    This stuff is even harder to find in the USA than decent cognac.

    I hear great things about it, and that it’s supposed to be earthier and richer, but after a bad experience with a particular VSOP that shall not be named (tasted like a mouthful of perfume), I’m wary of buying more without some guidance.

    I’m wondering if there is a decent, reasonably priced, mid-level armagnac available online in the US that other readers feel would be an accessible and good introduction to the spirit. You know how it is – there are some cognacs that are not exquisite or adventurous, but are solid and good examples of cognac that can help introduce people to the spirit without breaking the bank. I’m looking for an armagnac equivalent.

  2. Avatar

    There are some important differances between the cognac market and the armagnac market that are worth mentioning. First of all (and the thing that lured me from the glory of cognac to the obscure reaches of armagnac): vintage bottles are very common. Harvest year and bottling date grace every armagnac on my shelf. They are often single cask and cask strength (and because of single destillation even young armagnacs are fine to drink, around 50 % alcohol).

    Vintage armagnac comes with a heftier price tag than the VS, VSOP, XO vareities. But compared to cognac and whisky it’s still relativly cheap. And you can find everything. It’s not all that rare with vintages from the 1910s, 1920s, for example (and even from the 1800s).

    Producers that are worth looking for, other than the ones mentioned in the article:
    Darroze
    Castaréde
    de Montal

    I don’t really have the experience to recommend a “solid and good example” since I’ve only tried vintage armagnac (and everyone different in some significant way). I’ve never been disapointed, though. And the older vintages (my wallet can reach the 1970s) have been magnificent and ranks among the best spirits I’ve had the pleasure to taste.

    Sadly, not many people drink and enjoy armagnac. I find it a perfect brother (or sister) to cognac, and I can not imagine my life without either of them.

  3. Avatar

    This is a response for both Eric and Daniel from Sunny South Africa

    I have been a keen folower of this blog for quite some time and I am glad at last to see that there is more to this great discussion that just cognac..

    South Africa, like Armanac, also produces some of the worlds finest (and award winning) brandy, in fact, South African brandy has a legacy of brandy making dating back to 1672 and is governed by stict laws regarding aging… here it is a mandatory 3 year minimum – cognac is two and a half. I wont type out the whole history here so check out http://www.alchemyofgold.co.za – the website is due for an upgrade, but it will give the basics. Enjoy

  4. Avatar

    steve,

    thanks for the recommendation! I had no idea that brandy had such a grand tradition in South Africa. I couldn’t find anything here i Sweden (surprise…), but I’ll be sure to search for a bottle or two whenever I leave the country.

  5. Avatar

    Here is a good entry level Armagnac that does not break the bank and is easy to find (especially online) – Larressingle VSOP.

  6. Avatar
    Ralph Kocan

    What is the distance in km between Cognac and Armagnac?

  7. Avatar
    Michael Sweetman

    I have had the pleasure and privilege to visit both Armagnac and Cognac , they both have their great and not so great products but I have found that Armagnac is a fuller bodied brandy due to its single distillation , it retains a lot of the flavour notes of the grapes, whereas with Cognac it is distilled twice therefore taking away some of the flavour notes of the grape. Plus Armagnac uses three grape varieties whereas Cognac only used one.
    Further more Armagnac is The older brother as it was first made 300 years before Cognac and it’s just because of its distance from the seaports that it has never had the ability to be exported like Cognac had in the past.

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