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You guys, you know Armagnac. It’s cognac’s older and better-value cousin, a brandy made in Gascony, in southwestern France. Its base is a still wine that usually includes some combination of the high-acidity grapes: Baco Blanc, Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche (which, by the way, translates loosely as “crazy white female”) and Colombard.

The wine made from these grapes is said to be so naturally acidic that there wasn’t much choice but to distill, then age it into a brandy — which farmers in the region started doing as far back as the 13th century. But certain producers in Armagnac today beg to differ. They are using traditional Armagnac grapes (and a few not so traditional ones) to produce lovely, crisp, white table wines that are mouthwatering and refreshingly low in alcohol. Perfect for these here dog days of summer.

The southwest of France is not as well known as a wine producing region as its neighbor, Bordeaux, but it has been making wines for much longer than the more famous region next door. Cultivated since Roman times, the region’s table wines are now making a name for themselves. They tend to be a great value – most are under $25 per bottle and many are under $15 – and are ideal as light, appetite-inducing aperitifs. So, now you can drink Armagnac at the beginning and end of your meal.

Here are five to try:

Domaine du Tariquet Classic 2011 ($9)
From one of the best-known Armagnac brandy producers, this lovely, easy-drinking white wine is mostly Ugni Blanc and Colombard, with a little Sauvignon Blanc and Gros Manseng thrown in. It’s light and dry, with a hint of the tropical.

Domaine de San de Guilhem 2011 ($12)
Made of Colombard, Gros Manseng and Ugni Blanc, this one is a clean, crisp sipper with bright citrus notes that makes for an elegant alternative to overpoweringly limey Pinot Grigio.

Domaine des Cassagnoles Côte de Gascogne Blanc 2010 ($10)
Serve this one to your favorite Sauvignon Blanc junkie. It’s a blend of Colombard, Ugni Blanc and Gros Manseng with zesty, tropical and some herbal notes.

Domaine Pajot Quatre Cépages 2011 ($9)
A mix of Colombard, Ugni Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Gros Manseng grapes from a producer that also makes Armagnac brandy, this fresh and vibrant wine is certified organic. Bright and juicy despite the razor-sharp acidity.

Château D’Aydie Odé Madiran 2009 ($22)
Might as well throw a red in here. Made right on the Armagnac border, in the appellation called Madiran, this wine is made of 100% Tannat grapes, a variety native to this neck of the woods. Robust – it’s no coincidence that its name sounds like “tannin” – it’s full of forest fruits and a hint of spice.


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