One of the great discoveries of last year’s trip to Camont was that of Armagnac, a special kind of brandy produced in the Armagnac region of Gascony. I had meant to buy a bottle last year but never got around to it and so promised to rectify the situation on this trip. Not only did I buy a bottle of Armangac, but I was treated to an unforgettable Armagnac tasting experience thanks to my good friend Kate Hill who runs the Kitchen at Camont cookery school and with whom I’m currently staying.
The Great Armagnac Experience of 2014 happened last Sunday in a small shop in Fourés owned by Alexandre Ladevèze who makes Armagnac from grapes grown on his family’s vineyard. Kate introduced Mardi and I to Alexandre, who treated us to a delicious aperitif before moving on to a sampler of his Armagnac collection, at which point he demonstrated how to properly prepare Armagnac for tasting.
First he poured a bit of Armagnac into a glass, then let me have a sniff. Then, he spent a few minutes turning the glass to aerate the Armagnac, holding his hand over the glass to control the aeration. After a whole lot of spinning and sniffing, he declared the sample ready to taste, and gave me the glass for another sniff. The difference was astounding, almost overwhelmingly potent but at the same time irresistibly plummy. To taste the Armagnac, I was told to get a good amount of saliva in my mouth, take a tiny sip, then let the Armagnac diffuse through the saliva, letting the taste take over the mouth. I’m new to this Armagnac tasting stuff, and I really had to focus to taste the subtle differences in his various vintages, but with his careful tutelage I was able to gain a better understanding of my own taste for Armagnac. It also made it blatantly clear why Alexandre takes such care in preparing each taste.
A lot of work goes into each bottle: multiple varieties of grapes are grown, the first in a line of many steps that gives Armagnac its distinctive personality. The grapes are turned into wine, which gets distilled then aged in oak barrels. Finally, the result is blended to produce different types of Armagnac, and Alexandre is so sensitive to people’s unique taste preferences that he actually creates customised blends for those who ask.
With so much thought put into his product, it’s no wonder why Alexandre cares so deeply that people like me get the best taste experience they possibly can. I’m humbled and eternally grateful for having met Alexandre and experienced his ‘art’. And I’m so glad I get to take a bit of his work back home with me. Huge amounts of thanks to Kate Hill for bringing us to Fourés and introducing us to Alexandre. Big time Gascony highlight! My Armagnac world has been forever changed.
It does make me wonder how many other foods and drinks out there I’m not really tasting. Top lesson from Gascony: take time, prepare, savour, taste and pay attention. More importantly, surround yourself with people who do that, too!