While our resident hipster. “Matteo” is demonstrating his knowledge to his local mixologist about the mash bill, history, and flavor profile of 23-year Pappy Van Winkle a dusty bottle sits precariously in the back with a super French sounding name, “Armagnac”. Somewhere in between his pontificating about Islay whisky and how Lagavulin 16 is simply the best peated single malt in commercial production, the Frenchman next to him orders from that dusty bottle of Armagnac and asks politely for it to be poured into a snifter. His attention is peaked. He inquires about that brown spirit swirling in the snifter and its nose pricks his memory, it’s Cognac! Immediately he begins to make references to Louis XIII that his friend had and how it is delivered into a hand-blown Baccarat crystal decanter and how it can be aged for a hundred years! This must be a brand name of Cognac. But it’s not.
Marketing, globalism, and the three tiered system of how alcohol is delivered in the US are responsible for our American gormound and budding spirits Sommelier. Matteo is a product of intense marketing and market availability and his knowledge is tempered with the borrage of social media and top of mind marketing campaigns. None of the opinions or knowledge is necessarily wrong, but there are other beer, wine, and spirits that get marginalized because they are on page two of Google.
However, nearly every culture on earth has a distinct spirit that can be enjoyed by the traveller or the local. We will call the Frenchman, “Pierre” to protect the names of the innocent. Pierre tells Matteo that the spirit he is enjoying has a history perhaps richer and longer than Cognac but due to history and marketing, and jealous hoarding by the French, it is only recently that Americans, in America can begin to enjoy this wonderful brandy. In fact, Armagnac is France’s oldest spirit. Due to its landlocked geography, it never reached the renown of Cognac. Today 97% of France’s Cognac is exported while nearly the converse is true for Armagnac.
But what is Armagnac? Armagnac is a geographically controlled product, similar to Champagne or Cognac or Bourbon for that matter. It must be produced, aged, and even use specific French oak barrels. It is mostly single [alembic column] distilled (but can be double distilled) from specific grapes regional to Gascony. In character, think of a single distilled wine, aged in oak barrels and owing its distinct character to the grapes it was borne. Remember, the more you distill, the less the character and the more the ‘smoothness’. While Cognac is prized for its smoothness and enjoys the full power of Rap and Hollywood, Armagnac is often kept to one of the greatest epicurean regions in France and is meant to be sipped and savored and isn’t meant to be gaudy. Because of single distillation and distinct oak, the brandies produced in Armagnac can be incredibly nuanced and celebrated for its differences. From leather to vanilla, the embracing of the terroir of the region and the production and even oak can greatly change the character of Armagnac.
Visit and shop online at www.spiritsandspice.com or venture to one of their three stores in Jackson Hole, Sedona, or The Shoppes at the Grand Canal in the Venetian in Las Vegas for a one of a kind tasting experience. Pierre loved the Bas Armagnac, 1973 and so will you.