Died and Gone to Heaven: Armagnacs
I like to think of brandy as wine that died and went to heaven. The French make two of the best of these heavenly drinks, Cognac and Armagnac, each named after its namesake region. If there is a better way to finish an evening at the table or at a bar than with a double espresso and a glass of one of these two wine-based brandies, I have yet to find it.
Yet, they are quite different. Cognac is, generally speaking, the more-refined (critics would use the word “commercial”), while Armagnac is generally darker, more-brooding (critics would say “rustic”) with somewhat of an artisanal bent.
Unlike in Cognac, which is farther along the Atlantic Coast to the north, many of the Armagnac producers of Gascony also make wines for the international market. Such is the case with Château de Tariquet, which I visited a few years ago, but it is their range of Armagnacs that draws the most attention: Bas-Armagnac, incidentally, refers to the sub-region and is not a quality classification.
Here are three, each progressively more refined and aged.
Château de Tariquet VS “Classique” Bas-Armagnac ($35). This entry level brandy might cause you to pause before moving up in class. It is sweeter and rounder than its older siblings – a lot of dried fruit flavors – with a nice finishing bite.
Château de Tariquet VSOP Bas-Armagnac ($45). Armagnac has lovely dark oak, much darker than you would get in Cognac, and that is very apparent here. It is a disciplined drink with a concentrated spiciness and notes of sea salt, common in many distilled spirits.
Château de Tariquet XO Bas-Armagnac ($60). Age has helped make this the most elegant of the three. It is very smooth with notes of violets and candied fruits, yet lean with a tight finish and a little coda of crème fraiche.