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Ah, the French. Arbiters of style and delectable taste. And when it comes to their Spirits, that definitely holds true. In fact, France has a rich history when it comes to making booze, one that’s changed and evolved throughout the centuries. However, one thing remains the same: they consider each of their homegrown Spirits — Calvados, Cognac and Armagnac — precious and unique gems.
Up in the Normandy region, Calvados reigns supreme. Over 100 different varieties of apples go into making this distilled Brandy, and they’re each blended to create a harmonious flavor. Bitter varieties contribute flavor, tart specimens offer acidity and the sugar in sweet varieties help aid in fermentation.
Cognac, however, is a stickler for the rules. First of all, it can only be produced in the Cognac region of France — so don’t try any funny stuff past the border. Also, the grapes that are typically used to make it are the Ugni Blanc, which are then double distilled in a copper pot still.
But down in Gascony, Armagnac is the thing. Although this French grape Brandy gets second billing to its more popular cousin Cognac, it delivers a more punchy and in-your-face flavor. The rules aren’t as stringent when it comes to Armagnac, but typically, the juice is column distilled and aged for a longer period than Cognac in Limousin oak casks.
Now, in this box, we have some righteous representatives from each camp:
Chateau de Lacquy Armagnac Reference
La Pommiere Selection Calvados
Guillon-Painturaud VSOP Cognac
Ready to raise your glass to these hometown heroes? A votre santé!
1. In 1942, Calvados received its AOC (Appellation d’origine contrôlée) designation, protecting and regulating its method and region of production. Cognac scored its AOC in 1936.
2. The most money ever spent on a bottle of Cognac was in China. An 1858 Cuvee Leonie was sold at an auction in Shanghai for $156,740.
3. Rancio is a highly desirable, nutty flavor normally found in extra-aged fortified wines (think: Port, Sherry, Madeira, Marsala) and fruit-based Spirits like Cognac, Calvados and Armagnac (ahem!). It appears in Cognac after roughly 10 years of aging in oak casks and intensifies as it ages.
4. Depending on where you live, there are two main systems for measuring the alcohol content of beverages. In the U.S., the alcohol content is measured in alcohol proof, which is twice the percentage of alcohol by volume (ABV), used in Europe. Therefore, 150-proof Rum has 75% ABV. Easy, right? Well, that’s until you start hanging with the Brits, whose proof system equals roughly 1.75 times the alcohol by volume.
5. Speaking of ABV, Armagnac edges out Cognac by a few percentage points. Cognac must be at least 40% ABV while Armagnac typically falls between 46% to 48% ABV.
6. The best way to enjoy a Calvados or Cognac is in a balloon-shaped snifter. Armagnac? Try a Champagne flute or a tulip-style glass instead.
7. Believe it or not, the French aren’t all that fond of Cognac. In fact, they export nearly 90% of their production.