Armagnac and fine dining
Armagnac is a spirit which pairs well with fine food and cuisine. It may, therefore, be invited to the dinner table, whatever the occasion or dishes served. Seafood, meat, fruit, vegetables, cheese, and dessert can be accompanied by one or more different types of Armagnac.
Armagnac cannot be paired with bland food or dishes. For it to pair well, Armagnac needs contrast and character. This is due to the very nature of Armagnac. Like all aged spirits, it consists of alcohol (ethanol), water, fatty acids and of course, aromatic compounds. Without an affinity of aromas, there can be no pairing.
Textures and flavors must also resonate with each other. The alcohol should be used to underscore the flavors experienced on the palate. It should not burn the tongue or the palate, nor should it create any heavy sensation or vapors on the nose.
Match textures. Try pairing:
- Lobster and frozen Blanche Armagnac – Ice cold, the lively citrus notes of the Blanche embrace the soft skin texture of the lobster.
- Caviar and XO Armagnac – Rich and luxurious, the caviar will soften the Armagnac.
- Crème Brulée and XO Armagnac – The fondant texture and the thin crisp caramel layer immediately attenuate the XO sensation.
High acidity is not compatible with Armagnac’s alcohol and tends to heighten it. However, a tangy character, i.e. a certain balance between acidity and sweetness, can create a match, particularly when the Armagnac is frozen and smooth. Any unpleasant sensations created by the coming together of alcohol and acidity are then reduced or eliminated. This effect is known and respected by bartenders when they mix cocktails.
In terms of textures, Armagnac does not work with fibrous or dry meat or flesh. It does not enjoy greater success with potentially spongy textures such as puff or shortcrust pastry when associated with a fatty cream. The result is even more disappointing with a young Armagnac.
Create Synergy. Make a dish that unveils a note in the Armagnac, like:
- Sea Scallops and XO Armagnac – The Armagnac’s citrus notes highlight the shellfish’s delicate flesh. The butter makes an excellent bridge, which flatters the Armagnac and brings out its hazelnut notes.
- Tarte Tatin and XO Armagnac – The light almond notes in the Armagnac, together with its smooth texture, complement the dessert.
Temperatures are not a major concern. Although a very hot dish will heighten the sensation of alcohol by creating alcohol vapors on the palate, the usual warm serving temperature of dishes such as a tarte tatin or pigeon, has a key part in the success of the pairing. Conversely, cold temperatures or even freezing can also be an ally as they make the Armagnac smooth and eliminate certain strong sensations such as bitterness or acidity.
Weight is key, a lighter Armagnac will tend to work well with a lighter flavored dish, whereas a bolder Armagnac will work with a more heavily flavored dish.
- Oysters and frozen Blanche Armagnac – The sweetness of the Blanche and the saltiness of oysters strike a nice balance on the palate.
- Roquefort and Blanche Armagnac – The food and the Blanche have massive flavors; ensuring one does not dominate the other.
- Dark chocolate and a 25 Years old Armagnac – Dark chocolate is the best partner for Armagnac, the older the Armagnac is, and the better it pairs.
The unique and complex character of Armagnac can enable the creation of major pairings, whose number is yet to be ascertained, and whose quality, intensity and variety have surprised even the leading fine food specialists.