First, producers must follow a single distillation process within a continuous column still called an alembic armagnaçaise, a process that must conclude by the 31st of March each year.
Another important rule is that the base wines used during this process can only be sourced from a range of ten different white wine grapes grown exclusively in Gascony, with the wines being characteristically high in acidity and relatively low in alcohol (around 7-12%).
Post distillation, the resulting clear spirit is called eau de vie, which is then aged in new French oak barrels for anywhere between six months to two years, before being transferred to older oak barrels for further ageing and development of additional flavour and character.
Each individual aged eau de vie represents the product or vintage of one harvest, with a number of different vintages usually being blended together in an intricate and careful process that ensures the right balance of flavours in the final bottle of Armagnac.
Similar to Cognac producers, Armagnac distillers are also permitted to include a small number of additives prior to bottling, including sugar, to add sweetness, water, to reduce the alcohol content, boisé, a form of boiled wood flavouring that is used to enhance the characteristics of ageing, and finally caramel, for colouring and consistency.
Once these steps have been followed, a distiller either then blends and bottles a number of different aged eau de vie, or a selection from one vintage, together, producing the final Armagnac spirit.
There are, however, a number of further classifications that are applied to the resulting spirit, denoting varying degrees of quality and taste.
How to Classify Armagnac
Once the basic steps above have been followed, bottles of Armagnac are then given further classifications based upon other factors of production, including time spent ageing or number of blends from different years, which allude to the quality and taste of the resulting spirit, outlined below.