Today's Most Vexing Question Is Which Brandy? Armagnac, Cognac Or Calvados
There are several misconceptions and misunderstandings about brandy. Not everyone is aware that armagnac, cognac and calvados are all brandies.
The names are associated with the locations in France from which they come.
Most people will defend to the death their preference for one of these three. Those who have yet to experience the excitement of the differences among them will all too often feel that they are comparable.
Nothing could be further from the truth. These three brandies vary enormously. One would expect certain things to be contributors to these differences. First there is the soil type. Then the climate and kind of grapes will also make a big difference. In addition to these obvious factors they also differ in distilling procedures and aging methods.
As someone once pointed out to me when an acquaintance of ours said that there really was no difference between armagnac and cognac - there is as much difference as between Bordeaux and Burgundy or if you prefer the Italian fine reds between Barolo and Brunello.
Maybe we should talk about locations of these brandies. Armagnac is the southernmost of the three. It is 150 miles south of Cognac and about 100 miles east of the Atlantic Ocean. It is in the southwest corner of France. Its 15,000 hectares form the center of the area known as Gascony.
With Cognac on the west coast of France 150 miles north of Armagnac you get an entirely different feeling and certainly the cognac is vastly different from armagnac. Calvados is still on the west side of France but in the north.
An interesting fact which few people recognize is that armagnac was France's first brandy. Because of its concentrated, complex aromas and tremendous length, it still remains first in the hearts of true connoisseurs.
It is accepted that cognac is armagnac's closest relative, but the differences are quite strong and unique.
As you can see from the slanted ways in which I write about brandies, I feel that armagnac is very much the most wonderful brandy. I hope that, if you haven't, you will try armagnac with an open mind and understand why I feel it is truly the most beautiful eau de vie in the world.
Maybe if we look at Gascony and its cuisine it will be easier to understand the wonders of armagnac.
Ducks and geese are the backbones of Gascon cuisine. Nothing is wasted: from these plump birds comes the foie gras (fattened liver), magret de canard (duck breast), confit (quarters preserved in their own fat), grease (often used in place of oil), kidneys to be flambeed with armagnac, liver to be spread on toast, and the carcass which is often grilled over hot coals.
Southwestern French specialities include: truffles, cepes, foie gras, becasse (woodcock), salmis de palombes, the "chabrot" after the garbure (soup with cabbage, duck and beans), and the apple tart or croustade.
Many people consider Gascony to be the most important gastronomic region of France. It certainly has produced some famous chefs like Andre Daguin and Alain Dutournier.
All of that to one side however, do try at least a dozen different armagnacs with your after dinner cigar or whatever you have with your brandy and then tell me that there is another brandy that is worthy of being drunk.
If you do decide that you prefer cognac and/or calvados, please send your excess armagnac to me.
Enjoy your armagnac in moderation, but do enjoy it and smile as you consume it.
by: Dobbs Franks