If, as one modern historian says, it's too early to assess the long-term results of the French Revolution, nevertheless there have been two veneficial short-term results: "La Marseillaise" and the annual celebration of Bastille Day. This July 14 could be a good opportunity for a truce in the Franco-American wine war. Perhaps, just for one day, we won't complain about rising prices and falling standards. Just for this day, let's acknowledge France's unmatched contribution to eating and drinking.
The French really do know how to live well. Take eau-de-vie. Other nations produce excellent table wines, but no one makes eau-de-vie quite like the French.
Eau-de-vie, the water of life: a distilled spirit, made from grapes or other fruits. If it's the distillation of grapes, it's better known here as brandy, and the best known French brandies are from Cognac and Armagnac. If it's the distillation of apples, it's a cider brandy, best represented from Calvados in Normandy. The brandies are lightly colored, ranging from golden to caramel, warm tasting, occasionally fiery, and should be sipped slowly, after a meal, perhaps with a cigar.
Then there are all the other fruits: cherries that make "kirsch"; raspberries for "framboise"; plums -- yellow "mirabelle" and blue "quetsch"; the William pear, and others. The French call these spirits "alcools blancs" because they are mostly colorless, with a warm, fruity aroma, and are rich but rarely sweeter than medium-dry. Considered to be the more feminine of the eaux-de-vie, they should not be taken any more lightly than brandies. At 90 proof, they too should be sipped and savored.
Jean Danflou, and urbane and charming Frenchman, is the head of the firm founded in 1925 by an uncle of the same name and producer of a top-quality range of eaux-de-vie. "We are a small producer. Quality is everything," he says. There is a Danflou shop in Paris. Elsewhere in France, the liqueurs are distributed to wine merchants exclusive in their area.
The Danflou bottle looks classy. Called the Charles X, it is a short-necked, solid, dark green, The same shape is used for all Danflou products in all markets. Its contents are equally classy. There are no shortcuts for Danflou: for example, in a bottle of "framboise," which requires 66 pounds of rasberries, more than half will be "framboise sauvage," the wild berries.
The three brandies are produced in their own growing regions. Most of the soft fruits are grown and distilled in the Vosges, the hills on France's northeastern border, with the exception of the William pears. Danflou prefers those of the southern Rhone, near Avignon, and has the ripe pears shipped to the Vosges distillery. In 1951, Danflou was the first to produce and market the "poire William." What about the whoe pear in the bottle? "It adds nothing to the eau-de-vie. Au contrarie," he says.
Jean Danflou likes his "alcools blancs" to be served at room temperature in a very chilled glass. This cools the liquid and still allows the beautiful aroma to be fully released. "But," he adds politely, "it's subjective. Some find it more convenient to place the bottle in the fridge." For the brandies, he likes to warm the glass between his hands, gently swirling the liqueur. All eaux-de-vie deserve large glasses and small pourings: the clear, clean aroma becomes deeper and more penetrating.
The Danflou eaux-de-vie are available at several retailers and restaurants in Washington. In the spirit of Bastille Day, I list the retail prices, without complaint. "Alcools blancs": about $30 per bottle. Some brandies Calvados, $25; Cognac Grande Fine, $40; Armagnac Extra, $25.