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  • Armagnac is a French brandy produced in the heart of Gascogny, to the south east of Bordeaux. Within the region there are three defined areas: Bas-Armagnac - produces the highest quality, most refined and complex Armagnacs. Ténarèze - yields most of the production and is known for its perfumed style of Armagnac. Haut-Armagnac is the least important of the three both in terms of quality and quantity. Armagnac is generally distilled once (as opposed to twice in Cognac) and this can promote a more intense fruit character and an "earthy", rustic flavour. Armagnac is mainly aged in local oak barrels which give more complexity and less sweetness to the finished spirit than their Cognac counterparts.
  • Cognac is a grape brandy from the eponymous French region situated just north of Bordeaux. The permitted grape varieties include Ugni Blanc (predominantly), Folle Blanche and Colombard. The rules governing its production state that Cognac must be distilled twice in traditionally shaped Charentais copper pot stills and aged for at least 2 years in French oak barrels. The indication of age on the label reflects that of the youngest spirit used in the blend. Some of the more commonly seen age terms are: VS (at least two years in cask), VSOP - Very Superior Old Pale (at least 4 years) XO or Napoléon or Hors d'Age (at least six years). In reality, most Cognac is aged for considerably longer than these legal minimums.
  • Calvados is apple brandy distilled from cider produced in Normandy and makes an interesting alternative to Cognac or Armagnac at the end of a meal. Alternatively, why not try "le trou Normand", or "the Norman hole". This is a small glass of calvados taken between the courses of a long meal - considered to revive the apetite, it's guaranteed to enliven any dinner party!
  • Made from pomace, the discarded grape seeds, stalks and stems that are a by-product of the winemaking process, Grappa has been around since the Middle Ages. Traditionally, Grappa is served (either at room temperature or chilled) in small glasses and served after the meal, as the Italians believe that it aids digestion.
  • Gin has enjoyed an astonishing revival over the past few years with distilleries popping up all over the place. Whilst all will have juniper at the heart of their flavouring, the variety of additional botanical element leads to a tremendous range of styles.

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