How to read an Armagnac Label

As you’re probably aware, liquor labels can be a bit confusing. You’ve seen them—letters like VS, VSOP, XO. So what does it all mean? Before you try to rearrange the letters like some kind of Sunday jumble, just remember this: all the letters on any bottle of Armagnac you’ll see refer to one thing: Aging.

When Armagnacs of different ages have been blended, the age on the bottle refers to the youngest spirit.

Age References
They are generally presented like this: 15 years old, 25 years, 50 years, etc.

Commercial denominations

  • Blanche, un-aged, and “white” Armagnac. Never compromised by barrels, she is the true essence of Armagnac.
  • 3 star (***) or VS, Very Special, is a mix of several Armagnacs that have seen at least two years of aging in wood
  • VSOP, Very Superior/Special Old Pale, has an age of at least three years.
  • XO, Extra Old, at least 6 years.
  • Hors d’Age, more than 10 years.

Incidentally, the reason these abbreviations are in English is because Armagnac has been exported for many years and the first importers spoke English.

Varietal
If the Armagnac is made with just one grape, it may be named after that grape varietal or include the varietal on the label.

Vintages
Lastly, Armagnacs are often sold as vintages, 10 years minimum of ageing in wood and corresponds solely to the year of harvest declared on the label (1934, 1965, 1976,…).

The key to understanding the age and quality of Armagnac is to know that law requires the label to indicate the minimum, but not the maximum, age of the spirit used.

Thus, the next best indicator of the age and quality of an Armagnac is its price. I believe that, in most cases, the higher the price, the better the quality of the product. Confusing? Yes, but keep this in mind. Those indications are simply to differentiate products, one from another, because in the end, consumers will select the quality that best suits their nose and palate.

Cyrano