Beyond Coffee and Cigars

Pairing Food with Armagnac

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Ancient, revered, and utterly delicious, Armagnac is a fine spirit which is held in the highest regard by those who seek out the finer things in life. This unique and fascinating grape brandy is deeply entwined with the history and identity of South-West France, and yet it has long since captivated the world, thanks to its combination of finesse and rusticity, its depth of flavor and its ethereal bouquet of aromas.

While Armagnac, as we know it today, was granted its own AOC status back in the 1930s, the use of Ugni Blanc, Colombard and other key grape varietals for the production of this delightful brandy has a history which pre-dates most other spirits worldwide. Indeed, references to Armagnac exist in texts written in the early 15th century, making this particular spirit older even than those made in neighboring Cognac by a good two hundred years. The secrets of its success lie partly in the fact that production methods really haven’t changed much, even since the days of those medieval pioneers; unlike Cognac, the Armagnac distilleries are still largely family-run affairs, which employ time-honoured methods and traditional tools. The result? A surprisingly wide and deep array of characteristics, with each distillery able to clearly mark their Armagnac out as different, unique, and special.

many people are slightly intimidated by the idea of bringing food into the equation

With all this history and all this range, sommeliers and Armagnac fans alike have long since struggled when it comes to pairing dishes and ingredients with this particular brandy. Its power and depth, coupled with the expressive subtleties a good Armagnac displays – full of terroir, age and barrel characteristics – mean many people are slightly intimidated by the idea of bringing food into the equation, for fear one set of flavors might drown out the other. As such, Armagnac has long been considered a digestif (a role in which it undoubtedly excels), served with a mild cigar, an espresso, and savored slowly.

Despite Armagnac’s suitability as a digestif, to avoid pairing it with any food is to miss out on some truly unique and special sensory experiences. When paired expertly, the flavors, textures and aromas of certain dishes and ingredients elevate the qualities of the Armagnac and reveal that elusive ‘third taste’ which sommeliers get so excited about. In order to help you achieve this gastronomic nirvana, either in your own homes or next time you’re visiting a fine restaurant, we’ve had a chat with some top UK sommeliers, and have put together a handy guide to food pairing with various Armagnacs. Enjoy!

Which Dishes Pair with La Blanche Armagnac?

Let’s start with the newcomer. The ‘La Blanche’ category of Armagnac is a relatively recent innovation, and one which refines the artistry of Armagnac to its simplest, most direct, and some would say most elegant form. Clear, clean and truly delicious, it’s a welcome addition to the Armagnac family and one which is very well suited indeed to food pairing.

Because La Blanche Armagnac is not barrel aged, its flavor profile is a masterstroke of concentration and one which appeals as much to vodka enthusiasts as brandy drinkers. It pairs well with a number of refined foods, but most notably it should be paired with smoked salmon and blinis, and high-quality caviar. Along this same route, La Blanche works very well with raw oysters and lightly pan-fried fois-gras. You can also pair this Armagnac with certain charcuterie items which are made with a sweeter cure, to bring out the the gentle fruitfulness of the brandy.

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V.S and V.S.O.P Armagnac Food Pairing

These aged brandies have spent up to nine years in French Oak barrels (although V.S Armagnac need not spend more than a year in the barrel) and as such have an intensity of flavor which is hard to beat. The best V.S.O.P Armagnacs burst with ripe flavors of stone fruits, apricots, plums and vanilla, as well as several floral tones which make them a delight to sip alongside a wide range of foods, while V.S Armagnac is beautiful in a cocktail, and is also regularly used in fine French cuisine as a flambé.

If you’re cooking with V.S Armagnac, you want to use it in dishes which combine the sweet-and-savoury elements this brandy presents so readily on the palate. Sweet, sticky duck with a honey glaze is a classic favorite, although many variations on the same theme work just as well. As for serving these Armagnacs alongside dishes, they work best of all with several dessert options. Tarte Tatin, with its stewed fruits and caramelized pastry, is a match made in heaven, but it also pairs very well indeed with traditional cakes made with candied peel – a stollen, or English fruit cake, for example.

However, if you want to really reach new heights with contrast and combinations of flavors, we believe that the finest pairings for these Armagnacs are those which come with the cheese course. Almost any blue-veined cheese will delight the taste buds when nibbled alongside a glass of V.S or V.S.O.P, although Roquefort from France and aged Stilton from the UK are perhaps the crown-bearers in this respect. We’re reliably told that Pyrenees sheep’s cheeses are also a clear winner when it comes to this pairing, such as Ossau Iraty and Abbaye de Bel Loc.


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Pairing Dishes with XO Armagnac

For many people, the experience you get when drinking an XO Armagnac – which is made from a blend of brandies in which the youngest has been barrel aged for at least twenty years – is something which redefines the palate, and opens one’s mind to a new and dazzling array of sensory experiences. The depth of flavor in these brandies is astonishing; they’re profoundly complex as a result of the lengthened aging process, and they express aromatic qualities which quite thoroughly surpass all others. When tasting an XO Armagnac, expect flavors of vintage marmalade, resplendent dried fruit such as figs, dates, prunes and apricots, and a decadent set of nutty, spicy, bittersweet notes, too.

It makes perfect sense that most people would want to pair an XO Armagnac with strong coffee, which brings out the deep sweetness of the brandy, or a mild cigar, the combination of which is nothing short of heavenly. However, there are plenty of exciting food pairings we can experiment with when it comes to this special Armagnac, many of which provide truly exhilarating results. Many people enjoy drinking XO Armagnac alongside petit fours, especially those made with candied peel, chocolate or coffee, or poured over a baba or similar cake – it’s worth mentioning that this brandy alongside a dark, heavy, rich chocolate cake is gastronomic decadence defined. However, we would argue that true pleasure can be found with an XO or Hors d’Age Armagnac served alongside savory dishes, thus allowing the truly expressive fruit qualities to come forwards on the palate. Try it with dishes featuring lots of porcini mushrooms (this brandy with a luxurious porcini-laden omelet is paradise on a plate), blackened guinea fowl or truffled cheeses.

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Originally posted 2017-06-20 16:38:27.

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