If you're Tony Soprano, you may be laboring under the mistaken impression that "Armagnac is the next vodka." But those in the know realize that France's oldest brandy is really the active ingredient in the "Pear Armagnac," the cocktail concoction that won the First Annual New York City Armagnac Cocktail Competition on Thursday.
In the October 20th episode of HBO's "The Sopranos," Tony is convinced to bankroll a scheme to import Armagnac to the United States by his restaurateur pal Artie Bucco. The come-on is the aforesaid comparison to vodka, as well as a promised improvement on marketing attempts in the U.S. and an allusion to Armagnac's sublime relationship with cigars. The deal falls through before it ever gets off the ground, leaving the mob boss with a half-filled bottle of brandy and a bad taste in his mouth. Nevertheless, the hapless Bucco was right about two things: Armagnac makers are making a concerted effort to sell their Gasgon brandy over here, and it does make an excellent cigar pairing. (You can read more about it in the coming Cigar Aficionado, December 2002, story The Battle at the Bar.)
Sebastien LaCroix, Director of BNIA, the French Armagnac Bureau, commented on Tony Soprano's travails with the spirit:
"It is true that Armagnac has not been heard much in the past 10 years, but those responsible for its presence in the American market are changing that. The United States is the fourth largest Armagnac market in the world. Though Armagnac hasn't kept up with the growth of its sister brandy, Cognac, it is still the favorite amongst spirits experts and connoisseurs."
Armagnac and Cognac are both brandies (distillates of wine). Armagnac comes from French region of that name and Cognac from the Cognac region. While Armagnac predates Cognac, it has taken a back seat to France's other brandy. Its chief differences come from the preponderance of sand in the soil (Cognac grapes grow in a chalky medium) and its method of distillation. Armagnac is made in a single run in a special still that allows it to retain more of the raw qualities of the grape than does Cognac.
In support of LaCroix's contention that Armagnac is now being better marketed here, he pointed to the BNIA's recent pronouncement of the "Pear Armagnac," a cocktail by Ratha Chau, General Manager, and Yvan Lemoine, Pastry Chef, of New York restaurant Fleur de Sel, as its Grand Prix-winning Armagnac cocktail. The award was the product of months of judging 50 Armagnac cocktail recipes created by New York's finest bartenders, mixologists, and sommeliers, culminating in an awards reception at Studio 450. Although the judging panel picked the "Pear Armagnac," more than 200 guests chose the "Nutty Frenchman," a cocktail by Robin Hughes of Blue Grotto, to be the recipient of the People's Choice Award.
"Promoters are also planning a four week Armagnac promotion this month in lounges, retail outlets, bars, and restaurants," LaCroix continued. "So, with the help of American marketing gurus and Armagnac fans like The Sopranos, Armagnac will soon no longer be known as 'France's best kept secret.' Before you know it, the American public will not only be drinking Armagnac but will be pronouncing it correctly, too!! Grazie Tony!!"
PEAR ARMAGNAC RECIPE
Courtesy of Fleur de Sel
1 Part Armagnac
1 Part Pear Cider
1 Part Pear Sorbet (or pear juice ice cubes)
In a chilled Grappa glass, mix the ice cubes (or sorbet if available), a couple of drops of walnut oil, the chilled Armagnac, and sprinkle some cracked walnuts on top.
Get the good stuff. Sip it neat. Add cigar to taste.