Difference between Cognac and Armagnac

January 15, 2016 by Editorial Team

All Cognac is brandy, but not every brandy is Cognac. In this article we will examine what are the differences between the two popular types of brandy – Cognac and Armagnac.

Definitions

Cognac Braastad XO and tulip shaped glass

Cognac is a type of brandy, produced exactly the same way as all other brandies.

However, there are special French requirements for a true Cognac. A manufacturer of Cognac has to use certain sorts of grapes, then has to distill them twice and age them for a minimum of two years in French oak barrels, using oaks specifically from Limousin or Tronçais forests. Also they have to get a permit from the French Government that allows them to produce Cognac.

Map of Cognac Regions
Map of Cognac Regions

 

A bottle of Armagnac Dupeyron Basquaise Traditionelle
A bottle of Armagnac Dupeyron Basquaise Traditionelle

Armagnac is similar to Cognac in all ways, but this variety of brandy is produced in the Armagnac region in Gascony, in south-west France. Armagnac was one of the first types of brandy to be produced in France, and the Armagnac region is famous for distilling spirits.

The Armagnac province on the map of France
The Armagnac province on the map of France

Labels of both Cognac and Armagnac

If you go shopping for a Cognac or Armagnac in the liquor store, you can be bewildered by all the term signs on bottles- VS, VSOP, XO, Napoleon, etc. These labels are distinct for the age of the brandy. The bare minimum for either Cognac or Armagnac is two years and it qualifies for VS, which stands for Very Special label.

VSOP stands for Very Special Old Pale. It is aged a minimum of four years.

XO denotes eXtra Old. This type of brandy must age at least for six years, but in practice XOs are usually aged up to twenty years.

Napoleon denotes the brandy that falls roughly between VSOP and XO varieties.

Hors d’ Age, which translates to ”beyond age“ is reserved for the most expensive and oldest Cognacs and Armagnacs on the market.

All these terms are assigned by the special French agency called Le Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC).

The general rule is – the older the vintage, the better the taste. But this rule doesn’t mean that VS and VSOPs cognacs and Armagnacs are not tasty.

Comparison chart

CognacArmagnac
Is brewed in the province of Cognac, FranceIs brewed in the province of Armagnac, France
Is distilled in pot stillsIs distilled in column stills
Less fragrantMore fragrant
The overall volume of production is biggerThe overall volume of production is smaller
Is more known worldwideIs less known outside Europe
Cognac production is dominated by big-name brandsArmagnac production is dominated by smaller  brands
Grapes used in production include Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche and Colombard grapesGrapes used in production include Baco 22, Colombard, Old Blanche and Ugni Blanc

Comparison

  • In manufacturing Cognac, the entire process, growing grapes, fermentation, distillation, aging and bottling all takes place in the province of Cognac, France. On the other hand, in the case of Armagnac, all the production processes take place in Armagnac, France.
Vineyards in the Armagnac region
Vineyards in the Armagnac region near Landes and Gers
  • The stills used in the distillation process for Cognac and Armagnac are different. Cognac is distilled in pot stills; on the other hand, Armagnac is distilled in column stills.
  • Cognac has a less flavored taste than Armagnac and is also less fragrant.
  • The Cognac region is bigger than the Armagnac one, and this is the reason for the overall volume of Cognac production being bigger than that  of Armagnac.
  • Cognac is more known worldwide, while Armagnac is popular almost exclusively in Europe.
  • Cognac production is dominated by big brands, such as Hennessy, Remy Martin, Martell, Courvoisier, Camus, La Fontaine de La Pouyade. On the other hand, Armagnac brands are of relatively smaller size. Among the notable Armagnac manufacturers are Castarède, Dupeyron, Clos Martin, Pellehaut, Janneau , Marquis de Montesquiou.
  • To set up a distillery in the Cognac region of France, under French law, you have to use at least ninety percent Ugni blanc, Folle blanche and Colombard grapes. The other ten percent of the grapes are supposed to include Folignan, Jurancon blanc, Blanc Rame, Select, Monyils or Semilion. On the other hand, the grapes used in the production of Armagnac include: Baco 22, Colombard, Old blanche and Ugni blanc varieties.
Old distillation limestone cooling table
Old distillation limestone cooling table used to produce Cognac (copper pipe at the bottom left)

Video

In this video you can see the showcase that explains the differences between Cognac and Armagnac: