Gascony On My Mind (Normandy, Too)

January 23, 2020

Asking a staff member at France 44 what booze they are currently excited about is a very risky gamble. On any given day, you could get a gushing report of a natural wine, a screed on why you should be buying more rum, rants about the virtues of Madeira, or just a lot of thoughts on why tariffs are dumb. Suffice to say, we’re an animated bunch, and the discovery of something that’s tasty, unique, and affordable is always a cause for celebration. Enter: a bevy of new spirits from the North and West of France that just tickle us pink (brown?) and get our nerd-engines (ehhh) really revving. First up, we’ve got the sublimely-priced Bas-Armagnacs from producer Marie Duffau. New to Armagnac? Consider it catnip for wine nerds and brandy-lovers, alike. Distilled from grapes grown in Southwestern France (near Toulouse, if you’re a Google Maps fiend like us), Armangnac tends to be spicier, fuller-bodied, and more concentrated than its cousin from the north, Cognac. That’s in part from its distillation method—Armagnac typically goes through only one distillation in a column-still, while Cognac is usually subjected to at least two distillations, giving it a lighter, more refined flavor.

Marie Duffau is one line of mid-range Armagnac produced by the Delord distillery. Founded in 1925 by Prosper Delord and his wife, Marie Duffau, the company is now run by great grandsons of the original proprietors. Their Napoleon ($36.99) and Hors d’Age ($54.99) Armagnacs both offer incredible values, with the former being aged for 6 years and the latter for 12 years. An entry-level bottle, the Napoleon offers sweeter fruit and a lovely hint of vanilla extract on the nose. The palate continues the vanilla notes, with a good dose of the region’s characteristic spiciness. While this is a perfectly adequate sipper, it would shine in brandy-based drinks that need an extra dose of spice and heat, or in a bracing Hot Toddy for a cold Minnesota winter night. The Hors d’Age presents a more classic nose, with deeper tones of roasted coffee, cocoa, and smoked meat. The palate moves in a more savory direction, with bitter chocolate notes interspersed with flashes of peppercorn, cinnamon, leather, and dried citrus. A complex, concentrated spirit, this is best enjoyed neat in a snifter… preferably with a bar of dark chocolate.

Maybe you’re not an Armagnac newbie and this sort of nerding-out isn’t news to you. “Yes,” you might say, “I’ve always known that Armagnac is the near-perfect halfway point between wine and whiskey. I have been enjoying it for years, thanks to the careful selections made for me by the incredibly talented France 44 team.” First of all, thank you, ghost-customer! We love you too. For you, we’ve procured an extra-special bottle: the Domaine du Charron Bas-Armagnac ($119.99). This baby is cask strength, vintage dated (party like its 2004!), aged in new oak for 14 years, and made from 100% Baco grapes. If that means nothing to you, don’t worry; Baco is one the 10 grape varieties authorized for Armagnac production. A hardy grape, it makes sub-par wine, but gives a lovely richness, viscosity, and plush body when distilled. All of that is on display in this vinous, concentrated brandy, which boasts a nose filled with roasted pistachio and pecans, dates, figs, and candied citrus. The palate is velvety smooth (thanks, Baco!), and continues those lovely nutty-fruity notes from the nose. Get this fireside, ASAP.

Finally, for all you cider-lovers out there, we’ve also added a new and exciting Calvados to our collection at France 44. Coming to you direct from Normandy, Claque-Pepin Calvados ($44.99) boasts USDA Organic Certification (it’s the first!!) and a very unique blend of both apples and pears in its initial cider-base. Just as Armagnac is distilled from wine, Calvados is the product of distilled cider. Here, the notes of fresh apples and pears carry straight through into the final product. This is brimming with that fresh-cut pear skin goodness, a baked apple core, and some dusty cinnamon notes floating around the top. Apple pie, anyone?

Whether you’re a wine-nerd, a boozehound, or a beer-bro, there’s never been a better time to start geeking out about French spirits. Come to France 44 and let us pour you a sample tout de suite!!!