Down a small street in the Condom, France, lies an 18th-century cellar that holds the world’s largest collection of old vintage Armagnacs in one place. Armagnac, France’s oldest spirit, is a brandy made from white grapes grown in one or more of the three AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) zones for its production. Legend has it that this spirit was a favorite of musketeer D’Artagnan, the real historical figure who served as an inspiration for author Alexandre Dumas in his novel.
Visitors to the cellar can watch a short film on the family who ran this Armagnac house throughout history, as well as how the Armagnac grapes are grown, distilled and aged. Armed with this knowledge you are led through into another part of the old stone cellar with a vaulted ceiling that holds more barrels and a collection of much older Armagnacs in bonbonnes.
Inside the high-ceiling room, the aroma of Armagnac maturing in barrels is intoxicating. The thick stone walls blackened by the microscopic fungus that feed on the “angel’s share,” or evaporation of the alcohol from the oak cask, could tell a story or two. Shelves contain bottles in different shapes and sizes, some containing Armagnacs that date back to 1868.
An old copper alembic rests in what was most likely the orangery of the chateau. These mighty, mobile sills once traveled from farm to farm in the region, distilling Armagnac along the way.
The American flag outside is a sign that this Armagnac house is now owned by the Vermont-based Raj Bhakta, the largest ever exporter of Armagnac to the USA. Following your free visit to the cellar, be sure to shop by the shop for an Armagnac tasting.
Know Before You Go
The cellars and shop at Château Cugnac are open weekdays from Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to noon and from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.