Change and variety are good.
Instead of wondering red or white with that meal, there are other possibilities from Sake to Single Malt and Beer.
Following my Interview with Pascal Aussignac 'Cuisinier Gascon', let me add another option, Armagnac, celebrating its 700 years.
Like an oak barrel that needs aging, I am a little green on the subject of Armagnac so two weeks ago, I arranged to meet with Denis Lesgourgues of Chateau de Laubade. The family owned property recently celebrated its 150 years anniversary.
I will try to keep it simple.
There are 5 types of Armagnac:
Young like 3 Etoiles or VS (a bit like a diamond in the raw)
VSOP, minimum 4 years aging
XO or Napoleon, 6 year minimum
Hors d'Age, minimum 10 years
Millesime, at least 10 years and from a certain Vintage.
Of the 2 regions in Armagnac, Denis feels that Bas Armagnac produces the most refined as Grande Champagne Cognac does and credits the soil ('sables fauves', somehow heavy) for it.
4 grape varietals are used to make Armagnac, Ugni Blanc, Colombard, Baco and Folle Blanche.
Denis credits Baco for giving it structure while Folle Blanche adds floral tones.
He uses 'Futs de Chenes de Gascogne', barrels made with black oak from Gascony.
One thing that distinguishes Armagnac from Cognac is that its color is natural.
Cognac and Single Malt producers use caramel to add color in the same way that Malbec was used to darken Clarets.
Now for the tasting.
We started with the VSOP from Laubade, vanilla, wood scents, almond and moved on to Hors d'Age by Marie Duffau, smokiness, liquorice, longer finish, softer edges.
If you want to fire your tongue, start with the young, not me, I go with Marie.
We then moved on to the XO Laubade, assemblage of 12 to 25 years old millesimes, simple distillation, smoother. Denis calls it their flagship.
Next came a Reserve Speciale also an assemblage (12 to 15 years) by Francis Darroze who works more like a negociant, purchasing from various sources.
While almost all Armagnac clocks in at 40% alcohol, this one at 43% pushes the enveloppe.
That may be why it took me 2 tries to appreciate it.
Back to Laubade with Intemporel No 5 an assemblage of millesimes, youngest is 25, oldest is 50. This one is 41% Baco, 13.5% Colombard, 35.5% Ugni Blanc and 10% Folle Blanche.
Laubade is the largest Baco grower in Bas-Armagnac. Not long ago, producers were under pressure to pull the Baco stock (some did) because of concerns voiced that Baco was harmful to people's health.
We concluded our tasting with the 1974 Laubade. It has aged gracefully, think nice patina like antique furniture.
Talking pairings this would be perfect with a bittersweet chocolate cake or a tarte Tatin.
Earlier in the meal, Armagnac would pair well with a Duck Magret (fat versus heat).
Other recommended main dishes would be cassoulet, pheasant, deer.
In the Cheese department, Roquefort or a soft and creamy Gorgonzola will work.
For Desserts think bittersweet dark chocolate (70%), caramel sea salt, ganache, creme catalane or creme brulee, dulce de leche ice cream, clafoutis or for contrast a Rhubarb Tart whose acidity stands up to the Armagnac.
I almost forgot to mention a local favorite called Tourte or Tourtiere.
In a nutshell when pairing go for contrast or unison.
I hope you enjoyed this trip to Gascony.
I cannot thank Denis enough for his time and insight.