On a darkening, cold afternoon, before a crackling fireplace inside Fine & Rare’s candlelit dining room, several servers and bartenders gathered recently for a training seminar on the lesser-known French brandy, Armagnac. Fine & Rare, a year-old restaurant and bar near Grand Central Terminal, had added more than a dozen Armagnacs to its menu, and the employees needed to learn how to sell them.
Brandy still suffers from a stuffy image of snifters and smoking jackets, and thousand-dollar bottlings in crystal decanters. Most of that reputation comes from Armagnac’s flashier cousin Cognac. But Armagnac is to Cognac what mezcal is to tequila — a drink mainly produced by small operators rather than large conglomerates.
“There’s such a need for education when it comes to Armagnac,” said Nicolas Palazzi, the owner of PM Spirits in Bushwick, Brooklyn, an importer of several Armagnac brands, including Domaine d’Espérance, one of the spirits poured at the tasting. “We go out, and we explain, and we do training and we let people taste the stuff. At our level, it’s one buyer at a time. We’re creating our own demand.”
Worth a Winter Splurge
Good Armagnac is not cheap, but unlike fine wine, it will last a long time.
DOMAINE D’ESPÉRANCE 5 YEAR BAS ARMAGNAC, 40.4 percent alcohol by volume (PM Spirits, Brooklyn, N.Y.)
Young, fresh, spicy and delicate. Great introduction to the spirit.
DOMAINE D’ESPÉRANCE 2000 BAS ARMAGNAC, 50.6 percent ABV (PM Spirits)
Aged 13 years in the barrel. Deep, spicy and complex, with notes of mint, cocoa and roasted nuts.