Audrey, ambassador of Castarede in the United States
French expatriate in Los Angeles for 10 years, Audrey Fort is a fan far from the clichés that we can associate with spirits in general. Co-founder of the brand creation agency “The Rooster Factory”, she helps to make Maison Castarède known across the Atlantic.
Do you remember your first encounter with Armagnac?
It was in 2009, the American importer I was working with was organizing tasting tours for distributors. Each House had a presentation table, and after several trips in the company of Florence Castarède, one day, I went to find her. She offered me an incredible tasting, guided and commented. La Blanche was an amazing discovery for me, not at all what I had in mind, a revelation! We can’t imagine that armagnac can also be that. It’s disconcerting, funky, a mixture of the flavors of grape brandy, agricultural rum with accents of green banana, and Pisco. Then Florence continued with a VS, VSOP and vintages. For me, the nature, the essence, the origin of the grape stands out much more than with cognac in general. It was a real crush.
What is your definition of Armagnac?
For me, it is one of the finest spirits in the world: the pure and uncompromising expression of grapes and multiple Gascon terroirs. A versatile nectar, extremely rich in aromas, steeped in history. A story of generous and passionate women and men for whom the perfection of an authentic eau-de-vie prevails over any other dictate. The very definition of artisanal excellence and French know-how.
For you, a tasting of Armagnac is associated with which moment(s)?
There isn’t: I fight against the clichés linked to its consumption and I don’t want to limit it to certain moments. I can taste Armagnac with a base of Blanche in a tiki bar in Chicago, or serve a 75 vintage at home after a meal with friends because I want to introduce them to something extraordinary, but also enjoy a VS or VSOP in a classic cocktail like a Boulevardier or a Negroni in a speakeasy in Los Angeles.
What flavor combinations do you like with Armagnac?
There are many possible marriages. I like to offer a plate of blue cheeses with a Blanche just out of the freezer. Another top combination is raw fish in sushi or carpaccio. With an XO or vintage, an apple dessert, like a tarte tatin, it also works very well. Finally, I slip a little into my pancake batter or to flambé bananas.
Do you think a woman tastes spirits differently than a man?
In France, I think this is the case, in the approach as well as the tasting. We imagine that brown, strong alcohols, digestives, are more for men, and French women seem to have more difficulty positioning themselves in relation to that. In the United States, the culture of alcohol in general, and cocktails in particular, is much more developed than in Europe. Women drink whiskey, hard liquor, like men. I don’t think there’s the same psychological brake on pure tasting. It’s also a question of taste education, it takes time to get into brandy in general. The female palate being less educated in brown spirits, it is therefore certainly easier to get into brandies via cocktails.
How is Armagnac perceived in the United States?
A lot of Americans – I’m talking about educated consumers – don’t know armagnac. Few brands are represented, and this category is somewhat overwhelmed by cognac, although efforts have been made in recent years. On the other hand, as soon as an American tastes Armagnac, it’s a surprise! And what enthusiasm! For them, it is between cognac and whisky, so it speaks to them of this smokey, peaty side that there can be in XO, vintages or certain VSOPs. Armagnac is perceived as a little hidden gem. Alongside the pure, traditional tasting, as an after-meal digestive, the discovery in cocktails is also always a very pleasant surprise. They also like this notion of craftsmanship, the luxury side, it conveys an image that they like of France.