Wine and some other drinks of Tour de France 2017: Stage 11. Eymet — Pau

Another impressive sprint from Marcel Kittel. The other sprinters may be talking about their lead up trains. But Marcel Kittel accelerates on the outside, and get a much higher speed.

Today is another flat stage. It even goes slightly down the last few kilometers. It will be fast. I will not be surprised if Marcel Kittel takes home another victory. The GC teams will take it easy, try to stay out of trouble and save energy for the mountains ahead.

Today, we will have something stronger than the other days: Armagnac. Armagnac is a brandy made in a certain area in France, just as cognac is a brandy from the Cognac area in France. They make brandy many places, but armagnac and cognac can only be made in Armagnac and Cognac repspecitvely. Today’s stage goes through Armagnac.

Armagnac is the oldest form of French brandy. It has been produced since the 14th century. The production represents a blend of three cultures: The Romans introduced wine (as they had learned to make from the Greeks), the Arabs introduced destillation and the Celts introduced the barrels.

The production district in Armagnac is divided into three areas: Bas Armagnac, Haut Armagnac and Tenaréze. Only ca 1% is produced in Haut Armagnac, so in practise this is not an important area.

Armagnac starts as a rather bland white wine. It is made from grapes that give low alcohol and high acidity. Ten different grapes are allowed, but only the first four on this list are used.

  • Ugni Blanc 55%
  • Baco (aka Baco 22A) 35%
  • Folle Blanche 5%
  • Colombard 5%
  • Plant de Graisse
  • Meslier St François
  • Clairette de Gascogne
  • Jurançon blanc
  • Mauzac Blanc
  • Mauzac Rosé

The wine is then distilled. In Armagnac they usually use Alambic Armagnacais. These are often rather small, some are mobile.

The Alembic is made from copper. It is a continous process. Wine is filled in the wine vat at the top. The wine is used to cool the varpour in the distillation process, meaning that the wine is already heated when it comes to the coloumn and the boiler. The wine pour over some evapouration plates, and is spilled over to the next, before ending in the boiler. Wine and vapour are in contact in this process. The vaopur goes the the cooler, where it is condenced and pour into a barrel as armagnac.

Amagnac is distilled one time, to a strenght between 52 and 72,4% alcohol. They distill to high alcohol for finesse an armagnac not meant to be aged, and for Blanche Armagnac (armagnac that is not stored). Armagnac to be aged is distilled to lower alcohol to keep the fruity and the richness in the armagnac.

In 2005 the regulation was changed to allow the production of Blanche de armagnac, an armagnac that is not stored. I have not tasted this type of armagnac. The aging requirements for the various quality designation of armagnac, are:

  • VS: 1 year
  • VSOP: 4 years
  • NAPOLEON: 6 years
  • XO: 6 years
  • 20 years 20 years
  • Vintage: Single Harvest from the year on the label (minimum 10 years old)

The English wine merchant Berry Bros and Rudd has a wide selection Armagnac in various vintagees from 1893 to present. They used to have a duty free shop at one of the terminals at London Heathrow Airport. It was a small shop with a limited selection. But we could pre order from their entire catalogue, and pick it up when leaving. I used to order armagnac vintage 1955, the year I was born. I collected them for my 50 years birthday, which was some years ago. I still have some bottles left. Unfortunatley, they no longer have this shop. But my vintage is sold out, anyhow.

I find armagnac more interesting than cognac. More interesting does not necesarrily mean better, but more interesting. We often get armagnac from single producers, in idividual vintages. Cognac is generally, like champagne, a standardised product made and marketed by big cognac houses. A Martell VSOP shall taste like Martell VSOP, no matter when it is produced. They blend to make their signature cognac, with as consitent taste from year to year. I find products with more identity and personality, marked by where and when it is made, more interesting.

Back in time, it must have been i the late 1980s or in the 1990s, I had an interesting armagnac experience. We were at a restaurant in Oslo. They had a good selection of armagnacs. We noticed that they had at least two different vintages from the same producer, I think it was 1963 and 1971 (I do not remember the producer). What we found a bit strange was that the younger, the 1971, was more expensive than the older, 1963. There was only way to find out if this could be justified: We had to have one of each vintage. The 1971 was more balanced and rounded, compared to the rawer and less balanced 1963. I had not imagined that a product made from a bland white wine, and then distilled, could taste so different from one vintage to another.

There are more standardised brand of armagnac, and we see vintage cognac from single producers. But the general picture is different.

Armagnac often has a rawer, I am tempted to say masculin taste, compared to cognac. Maybe it is result of the distillation, where armagnac is distilled once, cognac twice.

Armagnac har ofte en litt råere, jeg er fristet til å si mer maskulin smak enn cognac, noe som antageligvis kan tilskrives at armagnac destilleres en gang, mens cognac vanligvis destilleres to ganger.

At Labastide d’Armagnac a chapel and a santuary for cyclists, Notre-Dame des Cyclistes. I came acorss this by chance when driving past the place a little more than a year ago. We saw the sign, turned in and stopped, without knowing anything about the place.

The chapel is all that remains of a 12th-century fortress of the Knights Templar. The Château de Géou was razed by the Black Prince in 1355.

On 22 August 1958, Father Joseph Massie, pastor of Créon-d’Armagnac, Mauvezin-d’Armagnac and Lagrange, was inspired by the chapel of Madonna del Ghisallo in Italy to make a similar chapel for cyclists. On 18 May 1959, Pope John XXIII agreed to make the old chapel a National Sanctuary of Cycling and Cyclists under the protection of the Virgin: Our Lady of cyclists (Notre-Dame des cyclistes). It has been turned into a museum, and many champions have donated jerseys to the museum. It is the last stage before the Pyrenees. But I do not think many riders will stop for a prayer before the mountains.

As many medieval towns, Labastide d’Armagnac has a nice square.

It is a nice place to sit down with a glass of armagnac.

Grand Atlas des vignobles de France

2263046607This is the kind of atlas I would like to have for all wine producing countries in the world. Good  and detaield maps, with informative text. Could we wish for more? Some may wish for another laguage, as this is in French only.

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Tour de France 2017

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