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Archive for the 'Spirits' Category

The Gastronomique Tour: Part 2, Week 1 – Armagnac

The second installment of my European adventure takes place in the town of Eauze, France, where we were fortunate enough to visit the Armagnac producer, Marquis de Montesquiou. They normally don’t give tours but my brother told them I was coming all the way from St. Louis and was a fan of their Armagnac, so they made an exception. Our guide was the maître de chais (cellar master), Eric Durand. He was kind enough to take 1 1/2 hours out of his busy day to show us around and explain the Armagnac production process.

Armagnac is an eau de vie, like Cognac, but different in that it is distilled only once using a continuous distillation process. This process captures more of the esters from the fermented grapes and results in a more flavorful end product. Eric also noted that the oak barrels in which Armagnac is aged has a looser grain than the barrels used for aging Cognac, allowing the Armagnac to absorb more flavors from the barrels than Cognac.

Our tour culminated w/ a tasting of the house reserve Armagnac that dates back to 1900. If I remember correctly, Eric explained that with every vintage there is some excess Armagnac that won’t fit into the barrels used for that year’s production. This excess was placed in select barrels and is a blend of all vintages dating back to when Marquis de Montesquiou was founded. How fortunate we were to taste something that rare! My friend said he had never seen as big a smile on my face as when that golden nectar touched my taste buds! My brother commented to Eric that I’m now spoiled for life because no other Armagnac will taste as good as this house reserve. So true… so true!!

Here are a few photos from our visit:


P1010792 “La Cathedrale” (the cathedral) where the barrels are housed

P1010797 Inside “La Cathedrale”


P1010801 The large blending barrels (w/ a normal sized barrel in the foreground for perspective)

P1010812 The large blending barrels and the lab

P1010808 A label on one of the blending barrels

P1010802 A label on one of the normal sized barrels (noting the vintage, grape type, farm of origin, etc…)

P1010815 Markings on one of the normal sized barrels

P1010804 Maitre de Chais, Eric Durand, explaining the distillation process

P1010816 Inside the lab


Bob's Agen photos4 The moment of glory!


Thank you Eric for such a memorable experience!

A votre sante’…


The Gastronomique Tour: Part 1, Week 1- Southwestern France

How do I edit a fantastic 2 week vacation during which I snapped 670 photos?… Not easily!

To sum it up, seeing family I hadn’t visited since 2004 was so enjoyable I wish I had more time to be w/ them. I definitely won’t let so much time pass before my next visit.

My first stop was Southwestern France. I landed in Bordeaux and spent the first week exploring the region surrounding Agen, the city where my brother and his wife live. This region is filled w/ great food and beautiful countryside which encompasses many well preserved medieval villages.

This post and the ones to follow will provide a visual taste of my experiences…

P1010639 Agen’s organic farmers market




P1010661 Gavaudun

P1010683 Biron


P1010712 Monpazier

P1010732 Bonaguil

P1010739 Rocamadour


P1010839 Foie gras museum



P1010873 Josephine Baker’s old house (Chateau des Milandes)

P1010881 Beynac




P1010919 Our picnic spot (Roque – Gageac)

P1010920 Decadent picnic food


A bientot!



Basil Mojito


This year, when you have friends over to harvest your basil and make pesto, whip up a batch of these to quench their thirst!!

They’re easy drinking and, ahhhh, so refreshing…

Basil Mojito (recipe adapted from Texas Monthly)


8 limes – quartered

8 ounces simple syrup

40 medium sized fresh basil leaves  – chiffonade, plus 4 sprigs for garnish

2 cups ice – coarsely crushed

6 ounces light rum

8 ounces club soda


1) Make simple syrup: In a medium size pot add 1 cup sugar, 1 cup water and 14 basil leaves (chiffonade). Simmer over medium heat until sugar is dissolved then set aside to cool. Strain out the basil (you will have extra syrup)

2) In a large pitcher, squeeze the limes, add simple syrup and basil then muddle to extract flavor

3) Add rum, ice and club soda; stir

4) Pour into your favorite mojito glasses and garnish w/ basil sprig

** Makes 4 mojitos



After Dinner A.B.C.

    Just in time for All Souls Day (for all you non-Catholics that’s the
day after Halloween)
here’s some info about spirits. No not the kind that haunt you (unless you over-imbibe!)… I’m talking about the kind that go so well w/ your favorite Fall desserts like baked apples, bread pudding and pumpkin pie. Did you know that not only do they taste great and warm your gullet, some also serve a functional purpose (i.e., they aid digestion). So pour
yourself a snifter full and kick back while we discuss these delicious
concoctions! Here are a few of my favorites:

      Calvados – A dry apple brandy made in Calvados in the Normandy region of northern France. It is double distilled in a pot still, then aged for at least a year in Limousin oak (some are aged for up to 40 years). The best comes from the Pays d’Auge appellation controlee (a designation that is noted on the label).

     My mom familiarized me w/ Calvados. It was one of her favorite after dinner drinks. She told me about the French term “le trou de Norman” (direct translation – “the Norman hole”), a slang term for Calvados. They call it this because if you drink some after a gluttonous meal it will drill a hole right through all the food in your stomach so you can pig out even more! One of my favorite desserts to pair w/ Calvados is Remy’s Kitchen and Wine Bar’s apple bread pudding w/ caramel sauce!

    Armagnac – A fine French brandy from the Armagnac region, which is situated southeast of Bourdeaux. Although almost as highly regarded as Cognac, Armagnac is of a different style. It’s distilled only once and thus has a lower alcoholic strength (usually about 53% alcohol) whereas Cognac is about 70%. This single distillation also leaves more flavoring elements in the distilled spirit. Armagnac uses the local black oak instead of the Limousin oak used for Cognac. Black oak gives more flavor to the Armagnac and allows for faster aging. The result is that Armagnac is silky smooth but more
full-flavored than Cognac, although it doesn’t have the finesse of the finest Cognacs. Remy’s bread pudding is a good match for a fine

    B and B – This is a blend of French brandy and Benedictine D.O.M. – a sweet liqueur named after the Benedictine monks of the Abbey of Fecamp, Normandy, who first began making it in 1510. Benedictine is Cognac-based and flavored w/ various aromatics, fruit peels and herbs. The flavor is a delicate balance of honey, citrus and herbs. The D.O.M. on each bottle of Benedictine stands for Deo Optimo Maximo, the Benedictine monks’ dedication “To God
Most Good, Most Great”. Again, I’d pair B and B w/ Remy’s bread pudding.
(If you haven’t figured it out by now, I love the bread pudding at Remy’s!!)

  The “Mayor”