If you’re sniffy about Armagnac, you’re missing out on a treat. It’s different to its much larger brother cognac – both spirits are distilled from wine that is aged in barrels imparting colour, aroma and complexity over time.
But top-notch Armagnac from glorious Gascony ignites the very coals of creation. Armagnac producers are allowed to use continuous stills (outlawed in cognac), which often include the pips and skins, boosting richness – imagine a prune glowing like an ember.
But Armagnac also has the secret weapon of single vintages, which means a bottle of your birth year should be top of your Christmas list. The Armagnac region is divided into three – Bas- Armagnac, Ténarèze and Haut-Armagnac. Bas-Armagnac is my pick, and earlier this year I made a pilgrimage to one of my favourites, Delord, where Jérôme Delord showed me round his distillery – portraits of his ancestors haunt the older stills and his treasury of glass bonbonnes dates back a century.
In fact, Armagnac has deep history and provenance, probably first distilled in old perfume stills. Invest in older bottles from Bas-Armagnac with their intensified velvet richness and you’ll feel like you’re nestling into a jumper of joy lined with happy hot water bottles.
And pick your producer with care – Delord, Castarede, Darbeau are all ace and look out for clever little bottles from The Whisky Exchange – Darroze Les Grands Assemblages 12 Year Old (43%) comes in a handy stocking-filler 3cl bottle for £7.25, and is as exhilarating as skiing on cinnamon sticks down a rum-n-raisin ski jump.
But catch a really ancient Armagnac from brandyclassics.com before they’ve all gone and reflect on this fortified phenomenon.
Olly’s brand new live show 12 Wines of Christmas comes to Zédel, London 9th December. Unmissable! Book online at brasseriezedel.com