Les Domaines Grassa Réserve

Many people are familiar with brandy. A good brandy, served in a snifter and warmed gently by the palm of the hand, can release intoxicating aromas and explode on the palette as a soothing after dinner aperitif — a grand way to end an evening and, as my father says, settle the stomach. One of the best types of brandy comes from the Cognac region of France just north of Bordeaux. You’ve probably seen cognacs (cone-yak) in stores and they tend to be pricey — there are many good ones including my personal favorite by Camus: the Camus XO elegance. At over $100 a bottle, though, this can be an expensive habit to cultivate. A cousin to Cognac is Armagnac (ar-man-yak) which is grown south of Bordeaux and offers a superb brandy without the price tag of your typical cognac.

After our Superbowl party this year, I was returning the beer keg and noticed in the glass display case of my local BevMo that they had an armagnac that received five out of five stars by the Spirit Journal. Here is the tag line:

5 STARS (out of 5) SPIRIT JOURNAL. Flavors explode on the tip of the tongue with huge flavors of rancio, oak resin, blue cheese, grape preserves and dark caramel. Long, lush, satiny finish.

The kicker was the price: $31. Most of the brandy/cognac that you get at this price is good only for cooking or cleaning engine parts. Having received my credit for returning the keg, I felt compelled to use it up by buying a bottle that received such high accolades.

I surprised Susan that night with snifter of armagnac after dinner. The color in the glass was a satisfying dark golden amber and the aroma spoke of fresh tobacco and brown sugar. A cautious sip produced a riot of flavor: a distinct sweetness tinged with butter and toffee, resin, and, yes, hints of blue cheese on the finish. I also detected a nuttiness which I labeled as burnt almond. I had no idea what “rancio” was so I googled it (define: rancio) : the desirable aroma of rancid butter and mushrooms, accented by notes of dried fruits and touches of raisins and nuts, that is created by oxidation of fatty acids in the barrel. Yow. Ok, maybe that’s where the nutty taste came in. Rancio, apparently, is a good thing for brandy but a bad thing for wine.

Oh, I also came across an excellent primer on Armagnac on the Maison Gélas website which describes both the region and the spirit making process. Interesting fact: the first armagnacs were produced in a special still whose patent was owned by King Louis XVIII. He’s listed as an unimaginative and inept ruler by some so perhaps he was dipping into his spirits more than he should have.

All in all, a good value for the money and a fine joie de vivre for the end of a long day.

Order at BevMo