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Distillation and ageing are among the most important operations of Armagnac production. By now you should be a budding connoisseur of Armagnac, however there are two important questions that still remain unanswered…
What does the distillation process of Armagnac involve?
How does the ageing process affect Armagnac?
Distillation of Armagnac
Like Cognac, Armagnac is distilled using an Alambic Pot. However it is only distilled once and operates on a continuous distillation method. The maximum time taken to distill Armagnac can be as long as 3 months (starting on the 1st December and ending on 31st March of the following year).
The grapes used to make Armagnac are very important as they must be high in acidity and low in alcohol in order to preserve freshness and aroma until distillation. For every 1 litre of Armagnac produced, 5 litres of wine is used during the distillation process.
With that in mind here are the 9 steps to distilling Armagnac;
- High acidity wine is poured into the Alambic pot and travels down the pipe to the condenser.
- The wine is heated in the condenser and travels up the water heater into another pipe.
- The heated wine is then transported through the pipe to the Alambic sill.
- Whilst in the Alambic sill, the furnace is lit and the wine heats further releasing alcohol vapours.
- The vapours rise through plate columns to the top of the sill and travel along a pipe back into the chamber. Plate columns help to filter the vapours from the excess liquid.
- As the vapours rise, gravity sends the excess liquid below the furnace which is then removed and discarded. More aromas are added to the vapour as it passes through the heated wine.
- When the vapours arrive at the chamber they are slowly cooled in the serpentine pipe.
- As they travel down the serpentine the cool temperature condensates the vapour turning it into spirit.
- The spirit is then collected in a barrel at the bottom of the Alambic pot.
Now the Armagnac is ready to be bottled or aged in oak barrels.
Let the ageing process commence!
The Ageing of Armagnac
Whilst there isn’t a definitive way of ageing Armagnac there are a number of unwritten rules that winemakers follow depending on the style and age of Armagnac that they want.
For young Armagnac:
- Aged in new oak barrels so that the oak aromas don’t overpower the fresh and fruity aromas of the Armagnac.
- Aged for 2-8 years depending on the desired year of vintage e.g. VSOP, XO
For vintage/old Armagnac:
- Aged in older barrels so that the oak contributes to the rancio aromas that are expected of an older vintage.
- Aged for 10YO plus depending on the desired year of vintage.
Regardless of age, when the Armagnac is stored in barrels you’ll notice the following;
- Cloth is placed under the cork (where the Armagnac is poured from) to protect the spirit from contamination.
- To keep the distillery humid and to avoid evaporation of alcohol, materials such as wood are placed between the barrels and the concrete floor.
Once the Armagnac has been aged for the desired amount of time it can be stored in stainless steel vats or demijohns. This prevents further ageing as well as oxidisation and alcohol volume depreciation. Otherwise the Armagnac is ready for bottling and can go on sale!
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