Forever Amber was the best selling novel in the 1940′s, in part, or perhaps mostly, because it was banned in about twenty states and condemned by the Catholic Church.Those who wished it banned called it pornographic; those who liked it called it liberating, but almost everybody read it. For us lusty young men it was just a mighty good read! The book would cause hardly a ripple these days, but there were a lot of girls named Amber in the immediate post World War II years.
The June 18 issue of FRANCE TODAY caught my attention with a Life- Style article titled “Forever Amber.” It was a piece about the “amber” trio: Cognac, Armagnac, and Calvados. It’s been said that the French may not have invented anything absolutely essential to life, but they have made just about everything that makes life worth while. That amber trio is among things worth while.
None of the areas of origin for these three legendary spirits is considered prime wine country. In fact, Calvados is distilled in Normandy, where there are no vines to speak of. Calvados comes from apples and is famous for the trou Normand, a one-gulp sip half way through a long meal in order to make a hole in the stomach for the dishes to follow. During my life in Normandy in the early 1950′s, Calvados helped make up for the lack of central heating in many post-war French homes.
Cognac and Armagnac are both distilled in somewhat different methods from white wine grapes that refuse to distinguish themselves as wines. It’s a double distillation process which fails to diminish the taste of terroir in which the grapes are grown. After distillation, all three brandies are almost clear, but they take on their amber color from barrel aging. Well made, they are dry and velvety smooth, and they age quite well. They don’t really improve once bottled, but they retain their quality, freshness, and length for decades.
Store them upright, not on their sides as with wine. Strong drink — 45 degrees alcohol as these beauties are — will eat the cork, not just keep it wet and swollen as corks do for wine. Except for the trou Normand gulp, brandies are best after dinner, especially by a roaring fireplace, in snifter glasses fondled lovingly by cupped hands and sniffed periodically between sips. There is no reason to think that Cognac, Armagnac, and Calvados will be anything but forever amber.