The First Kosher Armagnac
After an unplanned hiatus from posting, Mipikale is back, concluding our review of Kosherfest 2021. This is the final installment in our series looking at some of the more interesting plant-based items that may find a way to your table, restaurant, or catering hall. This time, we head to France to discover a brandy now available for the first time ever in a kosher production.
Ah France. Haute Cuisine of Le Cordon Blu, croissants and Napoleons, fine wines and chateaus. Despite a bumpy relationship with the US and Israel, it has been home to Jewish communities for centuries, with rich cultural and culinary traditions. It is one of the few places where one can travel and keep kosher easily – the baguettes are kosher nearly everywhere, and most major cities have at least one kosher market. For those who eat cheese, there are few places other than Israel where one can have such an extensive variety of quality products, and a large variety of regional wines to accompany any meal, vegan or otherwise.
Speaking of wine, it is the basis for many fine varieties of brandy, especially those from France. Over the last 20 years, we have seen the first kosher Cognacs. A brandy that is made exclusively in one area of France from specific varieties of grapes, it carries an appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) designation: production and naming must meet certain legal requirements to carry the name Cognac. The wine starts out as dry, acidic and pretty much undrinkable, but perfect for distillation and aging for a minimum of 2 years, with the alcohol content dropping from about 70% to about 40% after 10 years.
Cognac is graded from VS (aged at least 2 years), VSOP (at least 4 years), Napoléon (at least 6 years), XO (10 years), XXO (14 years), and Hors d’âge (“Beyond age,” a term basically equivalent to XO, and used by producers to market a high-quality product beyond the official age scale). All grades are now available kosher.
New at Kosherfest 2021 was Lagraulet du Gers Armagnac. Based at a vineyard in Occitanie (the Gascony region of south-west France), this is the first kosher Armagnac spirit.
Armagnac is a distinctive brandy produced in the Armagnac region of France. Like Cognac, it carries an appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) designation. Distilled from a blend of wine grapes including Baco 22A, Colombard, Folle blanche and Ugni blanc, using column stills rather than the pot stills used in the production of cognac. The resulting spirit is then aged in oak barrels before release.
Armagnac is the oldest brandy (and liquor) recorded to be still distilled in the world, predating Cognac. However, it is less well known outside of Europe due to a smaller production volume and the fact that it is made by smaller producers (most Cognacs are produced and distributed by large brands).
Armagnac is traditionally distilled only once (Cognac is typically distilled twice) and it starts with a lower (52%) alcohol content. It is aged in oak barrels to soften the taste, develop more complex flavor and aromatic compounds, and reduce the alcohol content. Due to its relatively low alcoholic content, it is generally not diluted with water.
A three-star (VS) Armagnac is a mix of several Armagnacs that have seen at least one year of aging in wood. For VSOP the aging is at least four years, and for XO and Hors d’âge ten years. The kosher XO product is still aging and will take some time to reach the market, but VS and VSOP are available now. Sadly, I was not able to sample the product, but for those who enjoy high quality brandy, this is definitely something to look forward to. Under the supervision of the OU and Rabbinate of Strasbourg, France. Look for it at your favorite kosher wine store.