Armagnac is a brandy made from a blend of distilled wines. The grapes are first vinified in white, before being distilled in stills. Only 10 grape varieties can be used in its composition. The most important are Ugni Blanc, Colombard, Baco 22A and Folle Blanche. The others are present sporadically in the vineyard.
The Fallières decree of 1909 sets out the list of grape varieties for Armagnac
The Fallières decree of 1909 established a list of 10 grape varieties which, once vinified, can be used in the composition of Armagnac eau-de-vie. Ugni blanc is the most represented. It occupies 75% of the surface area of the Armagnac vineyard. Baco 22A represents 20% of the vineyard. The rest is planted with 4% colombard and 1% folle blanche. 6 other grape varieties are nevertheless authorised to be vinified with the aim of producing eau-de-vie: white jurançon, clairette de Gascogne, blanquette grise, plant de Graisse, meslier-Saint-François and mauzac. For reasons of fragility, the latter are tending to disappear gradually.
The main grape varieties in Armagnac
Of the 10 authorised grape varieties, 4 are still grown in the region to produce Armagnac. Ugni Blanc is the majority, a robust and resistant variety. Baco 22A is a hybrid grape variety resulting from the crossing of folle blanche and noah. It is the second most present grape variety since it represents one fifth of the vines. Colombard, a traditional Cognac grape variety, is also present here and there. Jurançon blanc, also grown in the Charentes, is very weakly represented.
Ugni blanc, the king of Armagnac grapes
Ugni Blanc is a grape variety originating from Italy, more precisely from Tuscany where it is called Trebbiano. It is appreciated for its great resistance to Oidium. It covers more than 11 hectares of the Armagnac region's vineyards. It is characterised by a very high production, which can reach 100 to 150 hectolitres per hectare. It is also resistant to frosts and is particularly well suited to the clay-limestone soils which are predominant in the region. Also known as Saint-Émilion, clairette ronde or rossola, it produces simple, low-alcohol wines which, once distilled, produce fine eaux-de-vie.
Baco 22 A, the post-Phyloxera hybrid grape variety
Baco 22 A is a hybrid of the folle blanche and the noah, itself a hybrid of the Taylor and Vitis Riparia. It is a white grape variety only found in the Armagnac region. Following the phylloxera crisis that affected the South West in the 19th century, a schoolteacher by the name of François Baco decided to marry European and American grape varieties to increase their resistance. Baco 22 A was born in 1898. It is particularly suited to the tawny sands of Bas Armagnac where it is locally called picquepoul. This high-yielding variety produces eaux-de-vie of exceptional quality with excellent ageing potential. Baco gives the Bas Armagnac brandy its characteristic roundness and ripe fruit notes.
Colombard, the grape variety for Cognac brandy
Colombard is a white grape variety traditionally used in the Charentes to produce Cognac or Pineau. This sensitive grape variety produces a round and alcoholic wine. It covers about 600 hectares of the Armagnac vineyards. Colombard, also known as colombier or blanc Émery, is mainly used for the production of white wines. It is also found in some Bordeaux vineyards. Its fruity and spicy eau-de-vie is mainly used in blending.
The "folle blanche", the historic grape variety of Armagnac
The folle blanche, from which Baco A 22 is made, is one of the historic grape varieties of the Armagnac vineyards. Originally from the Charente region, like Colombard, this white grape variety was the main one used for the production of Armagnac brandy until 1890. Today it represents only 1% of the vineyard, covering barely 150 hectares. Fragile, it requires a lot of care and treatment. Called gros plant, plant de dame or chalosse blanche, it is mainly used in the production of dry white wines in the Nantes region and in Armagnac since the 17th century. Its acidic wine gives the brandies good ageing qualities. Distilled into Blanche, it gives the brandy fine and elegant floral aromas.
The other grape varieties of Armagnac
Six other grape varieties are authorised to produce Armagnac brandy. However, most of them have completely disappeared.
- Jurançon blanc, a fairly resistant grape variety from the South West, produces a wine without character.
- Clairette de Gascogne, originally from the south of France, of which only a few plants remain.
- Blanquette grise, which could make a comeback because of its great resistance and high yields. It produces smooth and round eaux-de-vie, quite similar to those produced with baco.
- The plant de graisse, also known as blanquette grise, is in fact a single grape variety.
- The mesliers Saint-François, from the Centre Loire region. It brings fresh notes to the brandies while having the advantage of being very resistant to frosts, which are frequent in Armagnac.
- The white mauzac, also called blanquette. At the height of its popularity in the 1960s, it has since been completely abandoned. It is characterised by a high acidity.