Cognac and Armagnac are France's signature spirits, both similar and very different at the same time.
Cognac is refined and elegant, larger producers, chalky soils dominate, double distillation in a pot still, mainly a blend of vintages and the dominant grape is Ugni Blanc.
Armagnac is rustic and complex, small scale, sandy soils, single distillation in a continuous still, mainly single vintage and four dominant grapes.
Curious about Cognac? Cognac is a variety of brandy (eau-de-vie) produced only in the Cognac region of France. That is what makes it so special. Perfect weather associated to the perfect soil, together with a couple hundred years of knowledge. Wine, usually from ugni blanc grapes, must be twice distilled in copper pot stills and aged at least two years in French oak barrels from Limousin or Troncais before it can be called a Cognac like Courvoisier or Remy Martin and sold to the public.
Cognac matures in the same way as whiskies and wines barrel age, and most cognacs spend considerably longer “on the wood” than the minimum legal requirements. Cognac is graded by its age. VS (Very Special) or *** (three stars) designates a blend in which the youngest brandy has been stored for at least two years in a cask. This is the Cognac you want to feature in a cocktail or long drink. VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale) or Reserve designates a blend in which the youngest brandy is stored for at least four years in a cask. VSOP can be used in cocktails or enjoyed on its own. XO (Extra Old) or Napoleon currently designates a blend in which the youngest brandy is stored for at least six years in a cask. Pour over ice or serve it neat. The minimum storage age of the youngest brandy used in an XO blend was increased to 10 years in April 2018. The Napoleon designation, previously unofficial, is used to specifically denote those blends with a minimum age of six years that do not meet the revised XO definition. Hors d’age (Beyond Age) is a designation equal to XO, but in practice, the term is used by producers to market a high-quality product beyond the official age scale. Once you go beyond 10 years, there are no grades - just precious Cognac. Ultra prestige category Cognacs like the Louis XIII from Remy Martin can retail for thousands of dollars.