New Adventures in Armagnac
We’ve had a busy schedule in Armagnac country, and while I’m sure few people will have one bit of sympathy for me, it’s a grueling pace we set for ourselves each time we’re here—never enough sleep, always too much to eat, your tongue ravaged by never-ending glasses high proof booze, your body jet-lagged and dehydrated, and your mind forced to translate each word into another language. The first few times I came to Gascony I spoke hardly a word of French and it was difficult to maintain my energy as a result. There’s nothing more these small producers want to do than tell an American visitor everything about their properties, their brandies, their lives, and their passion. When all you can do is stand there and wait for someone else to tell you what they said, it’s exhausting and the fatigue begins to set in twice as fast. I decided at the beginning of 2015 that I was going to rectify that issue, so I started to learn French twice a week with a private tutor. Three years later, I can understand about 80% of what’s being said and I can finally share in that enthusiasm. In an industry that’s 100% about relationships, I can tell you that 80% goes a long, long way, especially when meeting someone new.
One such new face was Colette Remazeilles from Domaine de la Tuilerie, a woman of many passions and an appreciator of the arts. She spends much of her free time painting in her studio and adorns the best of her work on the labels of her best vintages. The effect is similar to Bordeaux’s Mouton-Rothschild, but with a bit more charm and spunk. Colette is definitely the type of person I enjoy spending time with: kooky, eccentric, and full of life. Coincidentally, I found her Armagnacs to be much the same. They were bright, full of energy, with a certain joie de vivre that came through in each glass that she poured. Located in the Bas-Armagnac, not far from our friends at Domaine de Baraillon, she distills mostly baco, the classic grape varietal for the region.
Colette took over production at her family property in 1998 and, like I mentioned before, when she's not distilling she's in her studio painting. Using an old Ortès alambic originally built in 1949, the spirit comes off the still between 52 - 59% ABV and goes into 420 liter barrels for maturation in the chai (the French word for rickhouse or barrel room) next to her home. I'm looking forward to introducing her brandies to our customers later this year.
No trip to Gascony would be complete without a visit to one of my favorite producers, Château de la Grangerie. Built in the 17th century right next to an old monastery, the chai is located in what's left of an old church originally built between the 11th and 12th centuries, along with the housing intended for its servants. The property is magnificent, the brandies clean and round, and the history simply incredible. For me, it's the entire package—it's everything I come to Armagnac to experience.
Run by Robert de Langalerie, Grangerie is located in the Tenereze region of Armagnac, so most of what they grow and distill is ugni blanc. If you're interested in checking out a few of their selections, we currently have the outstanding 1993 and 2005 vintages in stock. Looking to bolster that inventory with more supplies, I tasted another fantastic vintage expression from 2000 that had a bit more heft than the two mentioned above, as well as a younger, inexpensive, cocktail-oriented brandy in liter bottles that I'm very excited about. I was also completely wowed by both the red and white Floc de Gascognes from Robert. Floc is to Armagnac what Pineau des Charentes is to Cognac. If both of those names are lost on you, Floc and Pineau des Charentes are liqueurs made by mixing young brandies with sweet grape must. Basically just fortified grape juice, sort of like something in between vermouth and Lillet. Both were wonderful, so expect an expanded Grangerie portfolio later on in 2018. I think it's about time our K&L customers discovered the simple pleasure that is a small glass of cold Floc.
While I wasn't planning to taste through older barrel samples with Robert, I never pass up an opportunity to visit the chai, as it's very much still a holy place. The remnants of the old church continue protect and sanctify the Armagnacs from Grangerie. Perhaps that's why they taste so good!
I was pumped up when we pulled into Domaine de Maouhum, a producer we've grown to love over the last two years since we first started importing the Armagnac. Maouhum is run by Christelle Lasseignou, who began to take over for her parents more than a decade ago. She does everything at the domaine herself—from the management of the vineyards to the distillation of the wine to the élevage process, the filling and upkeep of the barrels. It had been a few years since our last visit and I was excited to see what she had been up to.
Not only is Christelle super cool and fun to talk with, she's up to speed on what's happening in the modern world of marketing and social media. We bonded a bit over our visit, lamenting some of the developments the internet has presented for our industry, while simultaneously pointing out its advantages. It all sounded so much more profound as the Armagnac kept flowing! We tasted a couple of great vintages from the nineties at Maouhum, distilled from baco as is the norm in the Bas-Armagnac. Both had lovely accents of spice and plenty of oak. More soon.