On the Trail

From the Church of Armagnac

David Driscoll
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Today marks the arrival of two new vintage expressions from one of my favorite Armagnac producers: Château de la Grangerie. Not only do I love the spirits themselves, I love the story of Grangerie, I love the setting of the chai (the French word for barrel room or rickhouse)and I love the history of the estate. My enjoyment of these brandies extends way beyond the flavors themselves, although what I love about their flavor is how pure they are. Château de la Grangerie was built in the 17th century right next to an old monastery. The church and the housing for its servants was actually built in the 11th and 12th centuries, so it's safe to say that the Armagnac we have here today was aged on hallowed ground. The chai is actually located inside the entryway to the old church, under the gothic masonry that leads into the dark space. 

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Like many Tenereze producers, Grangerie distills only ugni blanc for its brandies. However, the sandy and gravel-rich soils are much more like the terrain found in the Bas-Armagnac. They fill about ten barrels a year; two of which are used for Floc de Gascogne and one goes to Pruneau—a prune-flavored brandy made by macerating the Armagnac with the dried fruit also grown on the property, which is beautiful and well-maintained. There is no distillery at Grangerie. Like most producers, they rely on a traveling stillman to bring a portable alembic on site once the harvest and vinification is complete each Fall and do all of their distillation in one shot. The barrels are aged within the remnants of the old church, giving the chai an ecclesiastical feel.

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Armagnac isn't Cognac in terms of adulteration and added sugar, but on the otherhand there are plenty of people who add caramel for coloring. I've often compared Armagnac to Bourbon and there are plenty of woody expressions that share many of the American whiskey's characteristics, but the Grangerie brandies are much, much finer. They're more like single malt than Bourbon and they have clean, pure, easy-to-love flavors of stone fruit, vanilla, oak—almost like Glenmorangie—it's just that where the malted barley flavor would normally kick in, instead you get the vinous flavor of the brandy: a raisiny, dried fruit component that reminds you this stuff is made from grapes, not grain. 

The 2005 vintage expression has more punch than the other brandies we've imported from Grangerie and with no added sweeteners or caramel the spirit comes across almost like a Highland single malt with strong notes of vanilla and a creamy texture on the finish. There is still a gorgeous brandy eau-de-vie character, however, and while not as heavily oaked or rich as what we see from other Tenereze producers like Pellehaut, this is one of the most graceful Armagnacs we've found thus far and one heck of a bargain for the money at 47% ABV. If you were a fan of our now sold out 2001 Grangerie expression, the 1993 is a richer, rounder, softer version of that same flavor profile. The nose is a heady bouquet of brandied fruit and creme brulee, the palate shows a lovely vinous character that packs a supple fruit and oak combination without any additives or caramel coloring. The brandies from Grangerie are some of the prettiest and purest we've tracked down in over five years of digging through Armagnac and we're hoping to continue finding incredible deals like this moving forward.

-David Driscoll