When it comes to brandies, nothing competes with France's amber trio, Cognac, Armagnac and Calvados, each a pure product of its own terroir. Cognac comes from a sector of chalky soil near the town it's named for, in the Charentes region north of Bordeaux. The area's white wines were little more than swill for British seamen until double-distillation was tried in the 17th century. Now double-distilled in gleaming onion dome-shaped vats, cognac is aged in barrels of Limousin or Tronçais oak.
Armagnac's territory lies south of the Garonne river in the Midi-Pyrénées region once known as Gascony, of Musketeer fame. Made with white wine from three areas—in ascending order of excellence, Haut-Armagnac, Ténarèze and Bas Armagnac—it's produced in complicated stills known as alambics using a distinct, continuous-distillation process, and aged in oak.. Racy armagnac is dry and velvety smooth, with a generous aroma and a long-lasting aftertaste. For a wonderful article on Armagnac check out France Today's article by Chris Redman.
Armagnac aging in "Paradis" at the Château de Laubade
Apple orchards replace vineyards in Normandy, where Calvados, familiarly called calva, was named after one of the departments in which it's made—double-distilled from apple mash fermented with yeast. First recorded in the 16th century, calva is the basis of the true Normand, the pause during a hearty meal for a nip to aid digestion and revive the appetite.
Adapted from the December 2007 issue of France Today
Lindaraxa's Tidbits...The Best Glasses
Remember those brandy snifters? Throw them out! No longer acceptable if you are a serious Cognac, Armagnac or Calvados drinker!
Believe it or not, the traditional snifter is not the ideal choice of stemware for the enjoyment of fine French brandy. The best glass for this purpose has a rounded belly with a tapered chimney. If you don't have glasses like this, use a tulip-shaped champagne glass, not a snifter. It may feel strange at first to drink your Armagnac from a champagne flute, but you'll be rewarded with a better drinking experience
Here's what you need to get! This glass is from Riedel.
Oh, I know, nobody is going to throw away those snifters and buy new ones. But if you are in the market for new cognac glasses, make sure you get the right ones. At the risk of getting killed, I am seriously considering getting a couple of these, at least for my own enjoyment.