It already supplies the big four with wine, but importer Bibendum has revealed plans to launch its spirits into supermarkets starting with a renaissance for French spirit Armagnac.

Over the next four months, the importer plans to hold discussions with retailers about its newly signed spirits brands and in particular Armagnac, which has a limited presence in the supermarkets.

The wine-based brandy or "eau-de-vie" is the oldest French spirit and celebrates its 700th anniversary this year, making 2010 the perfect time to rejuvenate the category, said Nick Rodgers, Bibendum's spirit manager.

"This is the first time we'll have talked to the supermarkets about spirits. We want to take Armagnac away from only being an after-dinner digestif to a standalone drink," said Rodgers. "If we can get the multiples behind it, then rather than just defaulting to Cognac the consumer will start to realise what a great drink it is and we can pull value back into the category. It has many more layers of flavour than Cognac if Cognac is like silk, Armagnac is like velvet."

The category needed investment and focus, he added. "A nice thought might be that it could grow threefold in the next 10 years, although it has the potential to grow a lot more than that."

Bibendum would probably start by supplying an own-label Armagnac to supermarkets, he said. The marketing appeal of the 700-year anniversary and driving consumer awareness through tastings would also be key.

Bottles of Armagnac imported into the UK last year numbered 211,671, down from 252,511 in 2008, and Armagnac houses were now using some of their grape harvest to make wine instead of the spirit, said Rodgers.

Any drop in sales last year was probably due to the economic situation, said Amanda Garnham from the Bureau National Interprofessionel d'Armagnac (BNIA). Bibendum's plans for its new signings, Samalens Armagnac and sister brand Larressingle, were a "big deal" for Armagnac producers, she said.