eau–de–vie: a clear brandy distilled from the fermented juice of fruit.
French, literally, water of life, translation of Medieval Latin aqua vitae
First Known Use: 1683 (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/eau-de-vie)
Bordeaux. Whether or not you are a wine drinker, the name Bordeaux is familiar and connotes a prestigious sort of French wine. Just north of Bordeaux, in Poitou-Charentes, Cognac, France’s best-known brandy, is also familiar. Armagnac, brandy made from grapes grown just south of Bordeaux in Gascony, carries none of the instant name recognition of its neighbors to the north. Lacking a huge, powerhouse brand like Remy Martin (Cognac) or Château Lafite Rothschild (Bordeaux), Armagnac and Gascony are simply less well-known in the United States than other French wine regions. Domaine du Tariquet, a premier Armagnac producer in Eauze, Gascony, since 1683, just might generate awareness of the region on par with Alexandre Dumas — you know, the author who wrote The Three Muskateers and whose protagonist, d’Artagnan, hails from Gascony.
Not far from the cooling breezes of the Atlantic Ocean and the pointy peaks of the Pyrenees, Domaine du Tariquet was purchased by the Grassa family in 1912. In the years after the Second World War, the family significantly expanded the land holdings of the estate from 10 hectares in 1946 to over 100 hectares by the early 1970’s. At this juncture, the family shifted from selling its barrels of Armagnac to regional negotiants to growing, vinifying and selling its wines under its own name, a.k.a. 100 percent estate-bottled Armagnac. And in the 1990’s, while continuing to expand its land holdings, the Grassa family planted wine grapes for the first time; the traditional Ugniblanc grape of Armagnac, regional varietals such as Colombard and Gros Manseng, and global powerhouse grapes, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Demand surged after Tariquet won a gold medal at Montpelier for the Classic wine in 1980 and was awarded White Wine Maker of the Year in a London tasting event in 1987. (Look here for where to find the Classic and other Tariquet wines near you.)
Tariquet’s white wines exhibit a brilliant freshness and, at retail prices under US$15, are affordable luxuries. Gascony, unlike Bordeaux or Burgundy or other famous French wine regions, is not widely recognized for quality wine. Drinking Tariquet feels rebellious and novel, as though I’ve stumbled onto a secret. Similarly, drinking American wine was once considered unusual, too. It was not until the 1970’s that Napa first received recognition as a wine region, when a Napa Cabernet Sauvignon (1973 Stag’s Leap Cellars) and a Napa Chardonnay (1973 Chateau Montelena) won in blind competition against French wines at the Judgment of Paris in 1976. As with Napa wines, wines from Gascony have found a place at the table.
Savoring a glass of Armagnac as a digestif with a nibble of blue cheese would make a stunning end to any meal and Tariquet makes a range of exciting VS, VSOP, XO as well as cask strength Bas Armagnacs (Bas is one of the planting areas where grapes for Armagnac are grown). To enjoy Armagnac as an aperitif, try Tariquet’s newest bottling, Blanche (White) Armagnac A.O.C. Made from 100 percent Folle Blanche grapes, Blanche is supple and creamy on the palate with a surprising, almost salty finish. Blanche, like her darker complected counterparts, would be delicious served ice cold with a side of blue cheese and fresh pear but the force of the modern cocktail movement nearly insists that Blanche be muddled with lime and mint for an updated Mojito. I plan to experiment with Blanche, adding Blanche to a cocktail anywhere vodka once trod.
Bordeaux? Cognac? Old school. Gascony? Your time has come. And, with a slight adjustment to a Cuban classic cocktail, this Tariquet-driven trip through Gascony in southwestern France is complete.
Recipe courtesy of Domaine du Tariquet
4-6 cl Tariquet Blanche Armagnac A.O.C.
2-3 lime wedges
3-6 fresh mint leaves
1-2 tablespoons brown sugar
10 cl. Perrier or other sparkling water
Place the lime, mint and sugar in a tall glass and gently muddle. Add crushed ice. Add Blanche Armagnac and Perrier to fill. Serve with a straw and more fresh mint leaves.
For more information about Domaine du Tariquet, please visit their website at: http://www.tariquet.com/default_uk.asp