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700 years of Armagnac – 4th part

An eventful history, two weighty ambassadors, a symbolic and strong anniversary… but some problems remain though.

First in France where the crisis has slowed down all the economical movements. Armagnac has been hit by the crisis too: the 2009 figures prove it though 2008 showed a sales recovery. Besides, French people drink more whisky than cognac or Armagnac…
Abroad, the export recovery of 2010 is of good omen. But when Armagnac sells 6.6 million bottles, whisky sells 1.6 billion of them. One might think it natural for a more authentic product made by small producers. Indeed, but cognac sells 163 million bottles!

A mixed success: the differences between Armagnac and Cognac
With such a rich history, the half success of Armagnac leaves us puzzled. Cognac, its neighbor, is far better known and sells much more, with its great trade houses, when Armagnac is surviving thanks to small producers or family houses.
Let’s examine some of their differences:

In taste :

  • The terroir, of course. Even if many cognacs and armagnacs use the ugni blanc grape variety, the land and the exposure determine the eaux-de-vie aroma.
  • The pot still. The still in Charente has a double heating circuit. The eau-de-vie coming out of it is 72° proof, while the still for Armagnac offers a continuous distillation. The eau-de-vie coming out of it is between 54 and 60° proof. Some say that Armagnac is better, less “burning”. (The double heating circuit lost ground in Gascogne during the 19th century, it was abolished in 1936; it has been tolerated again since 1972 with the settlement in Gascogne of investors from… Charente).
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In their conception :

Cognacs are assembled eaux-de-vie, whereas vintage is an Armagnac specificity, an exception in the eaux-de-vie field. Vintages mark the memory of land, climate and method.

In terms of History :

  • Cognac is close to Bordeaux: in the 17th century in particular, the nearness of the Bordeaux port was a trump card for the Cognac region.
  • Today, Cognac benefits from a current trend in the American rap world. Brought to the United States by GIs after World War II, cognac has been adopted by Afro-American communities who have left whisky to the “white man”. Unfortunately, Armagnac does not find favor with these new icons of the consumption world.

However, the current business models are certainly most responsible for the awareness and sales differences between the two alcohols. Armagnac is quite atypical in this extended globalization.

To be continued.

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