A Brief Guide to Armagnac
- POPULAR SPIRITS
A distilled grape brandy, it is a favorite of connoisseurs the world over due to its intense aromas, rich complex flavors and tre-mendous length. All Armagnac is produced in the Gascony region France, an area that is known for superb gastronomy. Gascony is located southeast of Bordeaux, nestled in the shadows of the Pyrenees. Warmed by coastal tradewinds of the nearby Atlantic Ocean, this pastoral countryside is dotted with medieval bastide towns which remain unchanged by the march of time.
Armagnac is an esoteric drink. It is generally ignored or misunderstood and is always difficult to procure. There are historical and geographical reasons for this, compounded by the fact that in the past, much of the armagnac made went north and was blended away in cognac. It was not until 1909 when the French government defined the area and method of production, to preserve the individuality and status of armagnac, that it began to be recognised as a spirit in its own right.
At their closest points, Cognac and Armagnac are only 128 kilometres apart, but as brandies they are a world apart in style. While Cognac strives for a smooth, dry spirit, Armagnac goes for a rich, pungent, earthy character with a dancing fire at the back of the throat.
Once uncorked, Armagnac is stable enough that oxygen won't harm it, so you can leave it in the bottle or a decanter indefinitely.
However, when storing Armagnac, keep the bottle standing up, not lying on its side, since Armagnac can spoil if it comes in prolonged contact with cork. Armagnac is usually drunk as a digestive, but can also be paired with certain desserts (almond cakes, apple, orange or vanilla tarts and chocolate based specialties) and then of course, with coffee and mildly flavoured cigars. The traditional snifter is not necessarily the ideal choice of glass - arguably the best glass for Armagnac has a rounded belly with a tapered chimney which helps to focus the aromatics. If you don't have glasses like this, a tulip-shaped champagne glass will suffice.
Appreciating the bouquet is the first step. A deep inhalation may singe your nasal passages with powerful alcohol vapours, instead, hold the glass at chest level and let the delicate fragrances waft up. In a minute or so, bring it a little closer - one has to play with the angle of the glass to discover where the fruit aromas surface above the alcohol. A trick learned from the brandy professionals is to stick a finger in the glass and then dab the liquid on the back of your hand - just as you would a perfume sample. Body heat will cause the alcohol to evaporate, leaving behind only the essential aromas of the Armagnac.
The intricacy of the aroma is itself a gauge of the quality of the Armagnac. On the palate, ideally an armagnac should display finesse (the most possible flavourants enveloped within the most delicate texture). As with the great wines of Bordeaux, subtle, defined nuances in lieu of monolithic flavours are sought after. Rancio notes should never dominate the fruit; instead, these secondary notes should ideally dance along the surface of the fruit. And as with great wine, a great armagnac finishes with length that not only persists pleasantly, but recurs in waves and remains on the palate for up to several minutes. Extraordinary length is generally indicative of an extraordinary armagnac.
Good Armagnacs have a lengthy finish. The finish begins after you have swallowed the Armagnac and it tells you much about the purity of the Armagnac, its concentration and balance. It is one’s final impression of the Armagnac and ideally leaves the taster with a pleasant reminder of all that has gone before.
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