Why armagnac is the best of the brandies

Make armagnac your French fancy this Christmas

Bonjour la class et ou est la piscine? France, that’s when. A country currently charging glasses while voters ponder their chances of survival in the next installment of the western world’s political domino rally.

But what will they charge them with? Wine is a reasonable guess, where would the French be without wine? In the same place, but it is important to their culture. Absinthe? Absinthe did successfully inspire a revolution in the art world, so it might tickle the French fancy of the politically active down south, but it’s not a Christmas drink. Perhaps chartreuse then? An alpine liqueur synonymous with a ski trips and was once employed by French farmers to control the flatulence of their cattle – perfect when you’re eyeing up the Brussels sprouts. Chartreuse is certainly another fine French boisson but perhaps not one for sipping by the fireside.

You might assume cognac then, even if to assume makes an ass out of you and me and the boucheries chevalines might be tempted to put us on the menu. But non, non and three times non, because at Christmas, the sneaky French will actually be drinking their secret stashes of armagnac. Armagnac is a brandy, the term being an umbrella for grape distillates such as cognac, grappa and pisco, and of all the styles, cognac enjoys the prestige, it’s from a delimited region and crushes most other grape distillates with an epic 300-year heritage. But armagnac is older (first distilled in the 14th century) and wiser than the Three Wise Men combined, and while production methods have changed over that period, when matured, it can be more complex and rewarding than its flashier cognac cousin.

Coming from the Gascony region, the grapes enjoy warm summers but cold winters so produce a hearty spirit and the stark varieties in soil ensures you can discover variation. Bas is the largest producer and the sand and silt results in light and fruity, while Ténarèze has more clay for and limestone for a fuller spirit. The key is to respect your elders, a lot of armagnac arrives on shelves a little young and cocky.

We suggest you head down there and try it for yourselves, it’s a beautiful part of France, but if you’re hoping to sample some this Christmas then Delord is a useful Bas house and provides an affordable and available range. The 1974 is available from Master of Malt for £69.55. The 1978 has also enjoyed celebration from many spirit sippers. The surprise of the season has been Aldi’s Ducastaing 1975, selling for a remarkable £24.99. But since this is a relatively mysterious section of the spirits shelf, we suggest the Master of Malt Armagnac Advent Calendar, £159.95, which gives a decent sample of a wide range.

Pair it with foie gras, they do down that way, they go quackers for the stuff. Drink it while wearing a sword, this is the home of Seigneuer d’Artagnan and the armagnac loyalists are called mousquetaires. And note that Gascony also has a town called Condom, which is less relevant, indeed including this aside with no discernible or clever pun is more a reflection of our own infantile minds.

The Thinking Drinkers will be providing audiences with five free drinks during performances of their acclaimed comedy show Around the World in 80 Drinks at London’s Museum of Comedy until December 23. For tickets head to www.museumofcomedy.com

Read more in our 12 Drinks of Christmas series: the Thinking Drinkers recommend American whiskeys


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