Now that Cognac has enjoyed something of a resurgence as a result of aggressive re-branding as a hip spirit for mixing, as well as being a fave bottle among rappers and well-heeled Chinese businessmen, many have tried experimenting with distillers beyond the traditional four main houses — Martel, Hennessy, Courvoisier and Remy Martin.
The next logical step for some connoisseurs, or merely picky tipplers, is a dalliance with Armagnac. Like Cognac, it’s a type of brandy distilled from grapes, aged in oak barrels, and produced in a French region of similar name. Unlike Cognac, it’s distilled only once, giving it a fruitier edge, while maintaining the complexity associated with Cognac, and at a much more tempting price point.
The virtues of Armagnac don’t stop there, according to 14th century Cardinal Vital Du Four:
It makes disappear redness and burning of the eyes, and stops them from tearing; it cures hepatitis, sober consumption adhering. It cures gout, cankers, and fistula by ingestion; restores the paralysed member by massage; and heals wounds of the skin by application. It enlivens the spirit, partaken in moderation, recalls the past to memory, renders men joyous, preserves youth and retards senility. And when retained in the mouth, it loosens the tongue and emboldens the wit, if someone timid from time to time himself permits.
Much Armagnac comes in colorful, decorative bottles with unfamiliar French names. Luckily, most of it is good quality, and your retailer can help you in the decision process. In New Hope, Fine Wine & Good Spirits at Logan Square is featuring bottles of Marie Duffau Napoleon Bas Armagnac, a six-year-old 750 ml. bottle with a full, fruity taste and nice tannins on the finish, for around $33 (below the national average price).
Most local alcohol retailers keep a better-than-average selection of Cognac and Armagnac around the holidays each year, so now’s the time to experiment and hunt around for some of the great values out there.