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SUNDAY SERENDIPITY
10/31/2010
Sunday Serendipity
Les Domaines Grassa Reserve

By Stephen Eliot

Although the several miles of Cabernet grapes we saw hanging a couple of days back along Napa Valley’s Highway 29 might suggest otherwise, it looks like winter may have finally arrived here in Northern California. It’s rainy and it’s cold and it’s turning out to be the kind of weekend that invites a crackling fire on the hearth and a late-evening glass of brandy. If fine Cognac ranks high on my list of favorite spirits, the somewhat warmer and more rustic brandies of its more southerly cousin, Armagnac, have always seemed to me just a bit better suited to pushing back the cold. Chateau du Tariquet, located in the region’s best appellation, Bas Armagnac, has been owned by the Grassa family for nearly one-hundred years and is among my top picks of the region. Moreover, I have yet to find as good an Armagnac at the price as the Chareau du Tariquet’s estate-grown and distilled Réserve, which can be found in the local San Francisco Bay Area market for under $35.00. It is a comparatively rich, slightly viscous, full-bodied brandy that, while displaying the region’s characteristic savoir and spice, is a little more polished and never quite so coarse as Armagnac can sometimes be. It is the kind of brandy that invokes contemplation as much as it does a smack of the lips, and it’s deep, toffee, burnt-almond and dried apricot qualities make for a remarkably flavorful and genuinely complex mix.

It is worth noting that Yves Grassa, family patriarch and very much the individual that put Chateau du Tariquet on the international map, is a thoroughly modern, UC Davis-trained enologist who very successfully expanded family endeavors into winemaking back in the 1980s, and, I suspect, he might have a few words to say about our ongoing Blog discussions about wine and “authenticity”. “I didn’t start with any prejudices,” he has said. “France is not my only culture, and I think sometimes tradition can become nothing more than a habit.” And, his Tariquet marketing director has been quoted by Michael Sanders in the NYTimes as saying “terroir doesn’t interest us all that much…what the winemaker does, that’s the most important.” Hmm, more grist for the mill to be sure, but, if the proof lies in the pudding or in this instance the glass, M. Grassa earns a big thumbs-up for his brandy.

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