Armagnac, the grape-based brandy from France’s Gascony region, is a delightful spirit well worth a pour. Although almost every discussion of the category begins by referencing Cognac—the other, more famous French brandy—Armagnac has no problem holding its own.
The robust richness of the brandy makes it an ideal dessert companion or nightcap. The flavor profile often includes butterscotch, stone fruit and caramel while older bottlings tend toward more dry flavors that suggest roasted nuts, plum skin or leather. Spice notes also can feature prominently, leading some to posit that bourbon is to rye whiskey as Cognac is to Armagnac.
Armagnac is frequently bottled in dated vintages, which means they can be perfect for commemorating a special birthday or anniversary. However, blended Armagnacs also exist. Many of these are affordable options that can be a good choice for mixing into cocktails. Those blends use an age grading similar to Cognac: VS, VSOP, XO and hors d’age, which has similar requirements as XO but producers use to indicate high-quality, often older bottlings.
One notable new blend is Bhakta 50, which incorporates an astonishing range of brandies: the youngest is 50 years old, distilled in 1970, the oldest distilled in 1868, plus six other vintages between 1878 and 1965. The average age of the blend is over 60 years old.
“It’s a miracle that these brandies survived,” producer Raj Bhakta rightly observes. “Nearly every village in war-ravaged Europe has been sacked time and again, and after its fortifications are reduced, a captured town’s alcohol is the first thing to be consumed.” It’s a reminder how much history can unfold in any bottle.
Luckily, this blend wasn’t treated too reverentially as it was finished in Islay Scotch casks, adding subtle bacon fat and smoke tones. The end result is a nontraditional spin on a traditional spirit—yet another signal that Armagnac is ready for its spotlight.
Gaspard de M. Single Estate Distillers Cut Bas Armagnac; $56, 98 points. The rich, bold, buttery aroma suggests brown sugar and cookie dough. The palate opens with oak, walnut, roasted nuts, ginger and a savory hint of mesquite, then leads into lush crème brûlée, dark chocolate and salted butterscotch.
Dartigalongue Grande Eau-de-Vie Armagnac; $125, 97 points. Look for a deep amber hue and vanilla and toffee aromas in this 25-year-old bottling. Cocoa powder and crushed walnut lead into rich toffee, burnt caramel and roasted nuts, finishing with a lip-smacking hint of candied ginger heat.
Delord 25 Hors d’Age Bas Armagnac; $83, 97 points. Vanilla bean and allspice aromas entice on the nose. The bold, complex palate opens with oak and caramel brushed with toffee and espresso, finishing with a grip of tannins and plum skin dryness. Walnut and clove frame the exit.
Castarède XO Aged 10 Years Armagnac; $70, 96 points. The aroma is pure, concentrated caramel. Oak, coffee grounds and piquant black pepper lead into a richer, creamier midpalate, showing vanilla cream and baking spice flavors reminiscent of egg nog, finishing with hints of cocoa, baked pear and nutmeg.
Larressingle Napoleon Armagnac; $70, 95 points. Look for a nut-brown hue and aromas that mingle allspice, caramel and a subtle earthy tone. The palate has an almost amaro-like quality at first sip, showing roots and bark, leather, clove and black pepper, with a hint of toffee in the background. The complex, drying finish offers oak, cigar wrapper and walnut.
Artez Historic Baco Armagnac; $40, 94 points. The Baco grape variety represents only 10% of vineyards used to make Armagnac, so it’s not often seen as a single varietal bottling. The end result is a sweet vanilla fragrance and pleasing gingerbread interspersed with espresso, vanilla and a hint of hazelnut. The drying finish is lifted by orange peel and cracked black peppercorn. Best Buy.
Laubade L’Unique #2 The Traveling Barrel Armagnac; $80, 94 points. This eight-year-old Armagnac was finished in ex-bourbon barrels for eight months. The end result is a tawny liquid perfumed with vanilla and baking spice. The first sips are brisk and energetic, with hints of oak, dried apricot and plum skin, blossoming into a long, gentle fade marked by mocha, toffee and a hint of sarsaparilla.
Bhakta 50 Armagnac; $399, 91 points. From the founder of WhistlePig, what’s in the bottle is a blend of old Armagnacs—the youngest is 50 years old, the oldest was distilled in 1868—finished in Islay whisky casks. The nose is all luscious crème brûlée, but the palate shows little of that. Cinnamon and black pepper are followed by surprising mesquite and bacon fat notes. The finish is more delicate, with hints of dried apricot, chamomile tea and cigar wrapper leading into a lightly smoky and spicy exhale.