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Dear Dr. Vinny,
My brother-in-law bought me a 40-year-old bottle of Armagnac for my birthday. From all appearances, it seems to be a very nice (expensive) bottle. How do I drink Armagnac? At 40 proof, it’s obviously not quite like wine or Port.
—David V., Chapel Hill, N.C.
I agree Armagnac is not like a wine or Port—it’s most like a Cognac (both are spirits distilled from wine and aged in oak barrels). Or, if you’re unfamiliar with Cognac, think of a Scotch or Bourbon. How do you drink it? Small sips, my friend. Small sips.
Glasses designed for Armagnac are typically tapered at the top to trap their aromatics, like a brandy snifter or tulip-style Champagne glass (either of which can be used). Typically Armagnac is served neat, though I’ve seen some people take theirs with a splash of water. Swirl the glass around, like you would a glass of wine, but be careful about sticking your nose in the glass to take in the aromatics—that 40-proof alcohol can singe your nose hairs. Just bring your nose near the top of the glass and let the aromas waft up.
Take small sips of Armagnac and let it roll around your mouth a bit before swallowing. As the spirit hits your mouth, vapors will start bouncing around your retronasal passages. Sometimes the instinct is to tense up or try to hold your breath after taking a sip of a strong spirit—just relax, and after you swallow, inhale to appreciate the finish.
You might find Armagnac most enjoyable alongside a glass of water or coffee, or with a cigar or some dessert. With a 40-year-old bottle, I expect you’d get some rich, robust flavors of smoke, nuts, dried fruit, and butterscotch or caramel. Once the bottle is open, it should keep for several months. Enjoy!
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