With cognac’s dominance, it can be difficult for other styles of brandy to gain visibility. But brandies from elsewhere in France, from the U.S., and from farther afield deserve attention, too. Their vibrant range of flavors and traditions show that the potential of aged grape distillates goes far beyond a single style.
Armagnac has been attracting interest from the whiskey crowd lately, as drinkers priced out of scotch and, increasingly, bourbon, turn to the excellent value the category can offer. Two new expressions, from Château de Hontambère and Dartigalongue, seem designed to appeal to whiskey drinkers: The former is bottled at cask strength, while the latter undergoes a double maturation in new oak.
Beyond its brandy-specific AOCs (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée), France is home to numerous grape eaux-de-vie, many of which are blended into St-Rémy Signature. Well-suited for cocktails, the spirit offers a fresh take on the traditional blending template, as does Omage, a California-made brandy with its aim set on the cognac crowd. Its sweeter profile and competitive price point hold dual appeal for curious consumers.
Though Armenia has a long tradition of aged brandy, bottles rarely make it to U.S. shores. Teryan is the latest offering to enter the market—keep your eyes on this new brand, and the other bottles below, for hints about the future of the category.
Château de Hontambère Ténarèze XO Armagnac ($130)
Hontambère translates to “fountain most fair,” referring to the fountain in this château’s courtyard and the spring that feeds it, which is said to provide remarkably pure water. The domaine has centuries of history creating delicate spirits in the typical style of Armagnac’s Ténarèze region.
Ugni blanc, baco, folle blanche, and colombard grapes are all grown and distilled separately before maturation and blending. Hontambère is dedicated to bottling its Armagnacs at cask strength, an unusual choice that rewards drinkers in search of full-bodied complexity.
Dartigalongue Bas-Armagnac Double Oaked ($45)
Family-owned since 1838, Dartigalongue showcases a long legacy of maturation and blending savoir-faire. Its eaux-de-vie are aged in Gascon oak and split among cellars of varying levels of humidity and dryness, which impacts the way the spirits age.
Each year, 30% of Dartigalongue’s freshly distilled spirits are placed into new oak. In the case of its Double Oaked expression, 100% of the liquid goes into new oak before undergoing a second round of new oak maturation, with each stage imparting a different toast level. It’s perfectly designed for fans of bourbon who are just starting to discover Armagnac.
Omage VSOP ($36)
Aiming to bridge the flavor and price gap between cognac and domestic brandy, spirits industry veteran Julious Grant debuted this California-based label in 2021. Its portfolio includes a trio of bottles, ranging from VS to XO. But the VSOP, with notes of stone fruit and chocolate, hits the sweetest spot. Made by O’Neill Vintners & Distillers from colombard, muscat, grenache, and mission grapes, Omage’s brandies include both pot and column-distilled spirits and are matured in a variety of French and American oak barrels.
St-Rémy Signature ($30)
France’s best-known brandy is cognac, but outside the strict geographic boundaries that govern that spirit, the country boasts a wealth of other grape-based eaux-de-vie. St-Rémy incorporates many of them into its Signature blend, sourcing ingredients from the regions of Alsace, Champagne, Bordeaux, and Provence. Each brings something unique to the mix, with the character further enhanced by a two-step maturation process: first in new Quercus petraea (sessile oak) casks, which impart spice and sweetness, and then in traditional Quercus robur (European oak) casks that are better suited for extended maturation. The end result is nutty, fruity, and honeyed—a rounded blend of France’s many terroirs.Continue to 5 of 5 below.
Home to some of the most ancient winemaking culture in the world, Armenia also has a strong—albeit more modern—brandy tradition. Named for Armenian poet Vahan Teryan (also spelled Terian), this brandy is made at Proshyan Distillery, which was founded in 1885. Using native mskhali and kangun grapes, it’s double-distilled in the Charentais style and matured for eight years in Armenian oak barrels, all of which gives it a chewy texture and earthy, fruit-filled flavor profile.