c/o the Vancouver Sun, from the Daily Telegraph

Yet another novel way to calculate nice rounded anniversaries. The 700th of Armagnac, in this case:

The golden digestif’s 700th anniversary this year is to be marked with a ceremony at the Vatican in honour of a medieval work they consider the Armagnac bible. They will bring back a copy next month.

Producers of Armagnac, France’s oldest spirit, are to launch a pilgrimage to recover its lost virtues from a Vatican archive, in a drive to win over a new generation of tipplers.

Called Very Useful Book for Conserving One’s Health and Staying on Top Form, it dates to 1310 and has been in the Vatican since the 14th century. This scientific encyclopedia claims the Gascon eau-de-vie has 40 virtues that work wonders on the body and soul.

If taken “medically and soberly”, the drink “makes disappear redness and burning of the eyes, and stops tears from running; it cures hepatitis.

“It cures pain in the ears and deafness; it makes disappear stones in the kidneys and bladder and when anointed, it relieves headaches particularly those coming from a cold.”

A glass or two gets rid of gout and — even more impressive — its frequent application on a “paralysed limb brings its back to its normal state.”

The text has the holy stamp of Vital Dufour — the Prior of Eauze, the Armagnac capital — who was made a cardinal by Pope Clement V in 1313.

Dufour insists it is good for the soul, too, as “it enlivens the spirit, partaken in moderation, recalls the past to memory, renders men joyous, preserves youth and retards senility.”

And when retained in the mouth, “it loosens the tongue and emboldens the wit.”

After a “difficult” year, Armagnac producers hope it will work miracles by helping them branch out to a new generation of connoisseurs, on top of their traditional clientele of 50-to 60-yearolds. “We have no intention of selling it in nightclubs,” said Pierre Tabarin, head of the Armagnac board.

“It’s for people who care about human values and heritage. But we would like to bring it to the 35-to 50-year-olds, people who want to talk, taste it calmly once they’ve matured a bit in life and want to get the most from it.”

In the Lagajan domain near Eauze, Constantin Georgacaracos, whose family has distilled Armagnac for seven generations, said French taxes were killing off the drink.

“They say taxes fight against alcoholism, but nobody gets blind drunk on Armagnac. It’s too noble a product to drink too much of.”

But there clearly is a plan to bring in even younger custom with a new appellation called Blanche d’Armagnac, a young, transparent spirit producers hope will become the new premium cocktail in London.

Armagnac is made from up to 10 grape varieties, but the four most common are Folle Blanche, Ugni Blanc, Baco Blanc and Colombard. It is normally distilled just once and aged in oak barrels, most of which come from the local Gascon forests.

One of its most illustrious ambassadors was Charles de Batz-Castelmore, a local hero on whom Alexandre Dumas based d’Artagnan. He introduced Armagnac to the royal court of Louis XIV. Henry IV also was partial to a tipple.

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