Monday, January 20, 2014

The American (2010)

The American (2010) is a movie starring George Clooney based on the Martin Booth book A Very Perfect Gentleman: A Novel (1990). In the book, Clooney plays a brooding assassin/gunsmith who is undertaking what he hopes is one last job in the mountains of Italy. The movie is a slow paced, moody piece that seemed to have turned many people off. I like the flick. I love the look of locales used in the movie. The architecture of the small village in Italy simply is amazing. Plus the movie moves along on its own without force feeding the viewer the plot. There are a couple of instances of spirits in the movie that I wanted to touch on.

In the opening scene the camera slowly brings to our attention to a cabin within a snowy scene in Sweden. In said cabin we find the protagonist Jack (George Clooney) in the company of a lovely lady (Irina Björklund) and a glass of a dark spirit lit by the fireplace that was burning and crackling offscreen. Now there is no way of knowing whether he's drinking Scotch, Whiskey, Bourbon or any other dark colored spirit. We can only take a guess. I wonder how many women (or some men for that matter) wish they were in that scene with Mr. Clooney. I digress.

What we do see early that Jack is quite the brooder, which is a look that we will see throughout the movie. Nice beard you're rocking there Mr. Clooney.

As the movie moves from Sweden to Italy, Jack aka Edward ends up in the village of Castel del Monte awaiting his assignment. While on a public phone in the village, he meets the local priest, Father Benedetto (Paolo Bonacelli). Father Benedetto is quite the curious bugger who welcomes Jack to the village and invites him to join him in a drink. The scene shifts to both Jack and Father Benedetto sitting at a table where Father Benedetto starts to describe the brandy that they will soon be enjoying.

Father Benedetto says that the quality of the Brandy is good, smooth
and the only good thing to come from the francesi 
At first I was unable to decipher what kind of brandy the bottle on the table was. I originally thought the bottle was possibly a Martell Cognac. While the bottles were of a similar shape, the labels didn't match up. All I could see that the brand name consisted of seven gold or yellow letters on a black label with gold trim. I decided to go back to the source material to see if I could find a clue. Luckily for me I did.

As I mentioned earlier, The American is based on the book A Very Private Gentleman: A Novel (1990) by Martin Booth. In the book, Booth describes how Father Benedetto loves his Brandy:
Father Benedetto drinks brandy. He likes cognac, prefers armagnac, yet is not too fussy. As a priest, he can ill afford to be: his small private income is subject to the vagaries of the stock market...So long as the quality of his brandy is good, the liquor smooth and the glass warmed by the sun, Father Benedetto is satisfied. He likes to sniff his drink before he sips it, like a bee hovering over a bloom, a butterfly pausing on a petal before taking the nectar. ‘The only thing good to come of the francesi,’ he declares. ‘Everything else...’

We are sitting on this patio. It is four o’clock in the afternoon. Two-thirds of the garden is in shade. We are in lazy, soporific sunlight. The brandy bottle—today, we have armagnac—is globulous, made of green glass and bears a plain label in black printing on cream paper. It is called, simply, La Vie.
Something in that passage stood out to me. It wasn't the name of the brandy in the book that caught my eye. It was the kind of brandy that stood out: Armagnac. I though I have seen the word before, I have no experience with this or for that matter many other kinds of brandy. To be perfectly honest, the only time I've used brandy is in egg nog and in the Between the Sheets cocktail. I decided to dig a little deeper on this Armagnac.

According to the website of Charles Neal, importer of fine French wine and spirits:
Armagnac is a grape brandy from the Gascony region of southwestern France. Its closest relative is Cognac, another grape brandy from an appellation located about 100 miles north of Armagnac.

Even though it is related to and often confused with Cognac, Armagnac is very different with regards to its grapes, terroir, distillation, élevage, blending, aromas, tastes and textures. In truth, France's two finest brandies made from wine are not very much alike at all.

Armagnac pre-dates Cognac by about 150 years but never achieved the widespread sales figures that its relatives in the Charente obtained. In contrast to commercial sales, however, the independent producer of Armagnac has always commanded a more important restaurant presence and level of connoisseur appreciation.
With my research leaning towards Armagnac, I decided to look for Armagnac brands that match the bottle on the screen. Lo and behold, my hunch of going back to the source material worked. The bottle on the screen is NV Janneau V.S.O.P. Grand Armagnac.

According to the Master of Malt website's listing for Janneau V.S.O.P:
[Janneau V.S.O.P is] A blend of Armagnacs aged for at least 7 years in Montlezun oak. Janneau VSOP is packaged in a Basquaise bottle and it has a smooth, aromatic style.
I tried to access the main website for the Janneau brand but currently they are under construction. In order to find out more about the brand, I decided to check the listing for Janneau from the Here is their listing for the history of Janneau:
Founded in 1851 by Pierre Etienne Janneau, Janneau is the oldest of the great Houses of Armagnac. Janneau's vast stocks and unparalleled collection of old Armagnacs enables the skillful blending of several different Armagnacs to create consistent, award-winning styles. Two different methods are allowed by regulation to distil Armagnac, the continuous distillation method called 'Armagnacais' and the 'Double Distillation' method using pot stills. At the House of Janneau they blend brandies produced by both methods, a characteristic which distinguishes their Armagnac from all others. Janneau continues to lead the field within Armagnac providing excellent quality, innovative contemporary packaging and labelling which clearly defines age and quality.
For those who are wondering what V.S.O.P. stands for? Total Wine & More's Guide to Cognac explains it in fairly simple terms:
Labels on Cognac bottles use special abbreviations that are designed to denote the quality of the spirit inside: V = Very S = Special O = Old P = Pale F = Fine X = Extra C = Cognac E = Especial. The final blend determines the label designation. V.S. Has Cognacs that are aged at least two years. V.S.O.P Cannot have Cognacs that are aged less than four years. X.O. All the Cognacs in a blend are aged more than ten years.
So there you go. Now go out there and try to have a taste of some Janneau V.S.O.P. Armagnac. If you have a hard time find some, check out the Master of Malt's website. They can ship sample drams of this and many other spirits. Give them a go and let me know what you think.

Until Then Happy Drinking,
Sisco Vanilla