Books and Brandy – ‘A Hedonist in the Cellar’ & Domaine Tariquet XO Armagnac.

Isn’t it funny how sometimes one thing leads to another?. In my case , having developed a voracious appetite for wine books I’m finding reading them leads to, shall we say, a bottle of something new entering the house ( note to self, discipline required here Dom! )

One of the books I’ve recently enjoyed is ‘A hedonist in the cellar’ by Jay McInerney. The book is effectively a collection of short essays on the , frankly enviable , list of wines that Jay has enjoyed during his career with such notable friends as Jancis Robinson and Steven Fry! A fun read and highly recommended, especially for those who want to expand their wine knowledge without feeling like they are actually studying.

Thinking back, I was probably reading this book in the ‘danger zone’ of the run up to Christmas and coupled with the fact that I’d recently ventured into the world of Cognac ( and been rather treated btw to a taste of ‘Delamain, 1er Cru XO Grande Champagne Cognac’ …huge thanks ‘M’ ) I was probably at particular risk from the chapter entitled “Number two and Bitching Louder: Armagnac”.

Although the term seemed vaguely familiar I have to admit the thought came in to my head ‘what is Armagnac?’ Well ,in short, it is basically France’s No. 2 Brandy and McInerney had developed a taste for it during his trips to Bordeaux where he found it was enjoyed by the locals “after washing down a roast chicken with a bottle of Pauillac”. At this point I realised this Brandy simply had to be explored ( and also made the note ‘ when in Bordeaux, if have intelligent things to say, get them out before they carve the bird’ )

Turns out Armagnac is made in a very similar way to Cognac in the heavily forested region of Gascony. The main difference is that , whilst Cognac is doubled distilled, Armagnac is only distilled the once. This creates what many commentators suggest is a slightly more ‘rustic’ spirit but one with much character. Another key difference is that while Cognac production is concentrated in a handful of wealthy firms, Armagnac is still largely an ‘artisanal’ product. Only 6 million bottles are produced a year from 37,000 hectares of vineyards growing varieties like Collombard and Ugni Blanc. By way of a comparison over 204 million bottles of Cognac were shipped n 2018! The biggest brand is Janneau who are based near the town of Condom in the Gers ( and no, that is not an unfortunate autocorrect! )

In McInerney’s view the best Armagnac’s are concentrated in the western most ‘Bas Armagnac’ region and the ‘XO’ version of one of his favourites, ‘Domaine Tariquet’ , just happened to be on offer in Waitrose for £28 ( down from £33 ). So having convinced Lou ( my lovely partner ) that tasting this Brandy was ‘meant to be’ a bottle was procured.

Domaine Tariquet ‘XO’ is made from a blend of ‘eau de vie’ that have been aged in French oak casks for an average of 15 years. The oak barrels are lightly toasted giving the Brandy a lovely ‘Dundee marmalade’ amber colour. The nose is really quite impressive and worth lingering over with notes of toffee, raisin, candied fruit, woody vanilla and nuts. Then on the palate you start to understand the use of the word ‘rustic’. It starts quite creamy but quickly becomes quite fiery! This I think let’s it down a touch.

So overall, a characterful, not too taxing on the wallet, Armagnac with an impressive nose but slightly fiery on the finish scores 7/10 and leaves me wanting to explore further.

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