OF COGNAC AND ARMAGNAC
The History of Armagnac and its “therapeutic qualities” Armagnac is the oldest brandy in France, known since the beginning of the 14th century for its therapeutic qualities.
The work of Maître Vital Dufour: “A very useful book for preserving health and staying fit”, written around 1310, was found in the Vatican archives. This old medical student was Prior of the monasteries of Eauze and St Mont.
In more recent times, theses submitted to the Universities of Vancouver in Canada and Bordeaux in France have demonstrated the Brandy’s anti-radical capabilities, and shown the protective role which Armagnac has regarding the aggregation of platelets in the blood, a factor in cardiovascular illnesses. It is the “French paradox”, or more specifically, the “Gascon paradox”. Between the 15th and 17th centuries, there is increasing evidence of trade in Armagnac: it was to be found in numerous markets in Gascony.
Armagnac In the 17th century, The English forbade any wine other than Bordeaux to be taken on the Garonne river. To get round this, the Dutch distilled the wines to produce brandy, which was not covered by the embargo. To avoid the fluctuations of good and bad years, Armagnac was kept in storage in oak barrels. It was discovered after several years that, as with Cognac, the oak had wrought a miracle, adding roundness, developing aromas and giving it the lovely bronze colouring. The marriage of oak and brandy from Gascony gave birth to Armagnac, well-known today on all the best tables in the world.
Its history goes back to the 16th century, more than 200 years after Armagnac. At this time, Dutch ships were coming to load up with the well-renowned wines of the Charente region. They came up the river as far as Cognac, a town well-known at the time for its salt entrepot, which had been famous since the 11th century. The vines produced a quality wine, although the quantities were such that it was becoming difficult to sell it. In addition, these wines, which were low in alcohol, suffered from the sea transport which took several weeks to reach the coasts of Holland. To reduce the volumes which had to be transported, and reduce the cost, the Dutch had the idea of transforming these wines into burnt wines – “Brandwijn”, which gave the name of brandy. Having arrived in Holland, the “brandwin” was drunk with water added, to “get back to” the original wine. Then, one day, a forgotten oak barrel was discovered. The “brandwin” had remained in it for several years. The liquid had transformed into a smooth and perfumed spirit. Cognac was born, and several centuries later, became the most famous brandy in the world.
Destruction by Phylloxera
In the 19th century, the Cognac vineyards covered 280,000 hectares, before they were destroyed by phylloxera in 1875. After this catastrophe, the vines were replanted with the white Ugni variety, which was more resistant. Armagnac was the same – almost all the vines, which already represented more than 10,000 hectares, were destroyed by the same epidemic. There also, most of the new planting was with the white Ugni grape.