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Cognac and armagnac.

Brandy is brandy, unless it's Cognac or Armagnac--then it's in a realm all its own. All brandy is distilled from wine, so it comes as no surprise that most winemaking countries produce it. But, just as wines of one country differ from another, so do brandies. Only France, however, produces brandies as distinctive as Cognac and Armagnac. Yet, as superb as these two brandies are, they are as different from each other in character, background and taste as two distant relatives.

Cognac is smooth and elegant; Armagnac is earthy and mellow. Cognac has a silky richness; Armagnac has been called the "Velvet Flame." Armagnac has a forthright bouquet that has been likened to prunes, hazelnuts and peaches, with a fullness characterized as plummy. Cognac's bouquet has been described as a subtle perfume of fresh grapes and violets with an underlying buttery aroma, and an overtone reminiscent of nuts. So how can two supreme brandies made in the same country be so different?

To the French, the place of birth gives a product its distinctive character. Both Cognac and Armagnac were born in western France, but the similarity ends there. The grapes that make the wine that is distilled into Cognac come from chalky soil, while grapes for Armagnac are grown in sandy earth. Cognac's climate is maritime, misty and northern; Armagnac's is warmer, drier and more southern. Cognac is made in an old, short, onion-shaped copper pot still, while Armagnac is made in a tall, column-like continuous still. Cognac is aged in barrels made of Limousin oak; Armagnac is aged in Monlezun oak from Armagnac forests.

These factors make for great differences, but they don't make one better than the other. Whether you ask for Cognac or Armagnac at the end of a meal is a matter of choice and personal taste.

Cognac is well known and plentiful in America, while Armagnac's presence here has grown mostly over the past 20 years. Together, there are dozens of brands and, within these brands, probably close to 100 or more types of these fine brandies. Among Cognac's most prestigious names are Hennessy, Hine, Delamain, Courvoisier, Prunier, Remy Martin and Martell. The choice Armagnacs include Sempe, Larressingle, Janneau, De Montal, Marquis de Caussade and Marquis de Montesquiou.

Nothing distinguishes Cognac from Armagnac like a sip. Begin by pouring a half-inch of brandy into a small snifter or any tulip-shaped glass, then look for clarity. Swirl the brandy gently around the glass, allowing air to mix with the liquid, releasing its bouquet. Inhale the aroma slowly. Sip a few drops. That is all it takes to appreciate its qualities, tastes and pleasures. Swirl it around your mouth, letting it rest on your tongue for a moment; then swallow.

How would you describe what you smell and taste? A great brandy is well balanced, complete, intense and lively. It can have an aroma of vanilla, due to its long maturation in oak barrels, and be long in the finish, meaning its flavor lingers on your palate long after you've swallowed it.

However you describe them, Cognac and Armagnac are simply brandy at its best.
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Copyright 1994, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:enjoying alcoholic spirits during the winter months
Author:Fried, Eunice
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Feb 1, 1994
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