“Hors d’âge” means beyond age, or ageless, in French. In the context of Armagnac, the great brandy rival to Cognac, it’s used with poetic licence. As with most brandies, Armagnac, from the southwest region of Gascony, tends to be blended from casks of distilled white wine that have been maturing for various periods of time. To qualify as “hors d’âge,” every component in the blend must be at least 10 years of age. In that sense, it’s a grade above lofty XO Armagnac, whose youngest component must be at least six years old.
Unlike Cognac, which is distilled twice to yield an arguably smoother and more polished spirit, Armagnac is distilled once, leaving behind more traces of flavour and a relatively robust profile. Long aging in wood softens the texture and can yield a rich, marvellously complex spirit. I love old Armagnac, and this one is superbly balanced, with nuances of pear and prune caressed by leather, vanilla and caramelized sugar. Savour it slowly on a cool autumn evening.