Google A verticale of vintage Bas-Armagnacs

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Hi, this is one of our (almost) daily tastings. Santé!

November 1, 2015


Malternatives on Sunday,
a verticale of vintage Bas-Armagnacs

There are similarities between Armagnac and Scotch whisky, especially the use of vintages, if not ages. But in Armagnac, they do not try to sell NAS or NVS for more money. Less information leads to lower prices in Gascony, mind you. Isn’t that fairer? But we’ll only try vintage Armagnac today, from three well-reputed houses. Hurray!

Domaine de Charron 2003/2015 (50.5%, OB, Bas-Armagnac)

Domaine de Charron 2003/2015 (50.5%, OB, Bas-Armagnac) Four stars This little Domaine only mature their Armagnacs in new French oak, and always bottle at cask strength. Quality-oriented, obviously. Colour: amber. Nose: you instantly understand that you’re in front of some quality spirit, even if it’s got a wee ‘international’ style because of some whiffs of toasted oak. Perfect notes of sultanas, panettone, white chocolate, then rather stewed white peaches, covered with some coffee and chocolate sauce. And a touch of earth for good measure. With water: oh great, tertiary notes! We’d love to see more tertiary notes in new malt whiskies. Rancio, tobacco, cough syrup, perhaps a touch of umami (yes, in the nose)… Mouth (neat): absolutely excellent, and a bit ‘meta’ again, with suggestions of rhum agricole and malt whisky beyond the prunes and the raisins. A touch of old PX or even Sauternes, and always this toasted oak. With water: fudge, malt, toasted bread, roasted raisins. Finish: quite long, a tad gritty as young Armagnac should be, with some coffee in the aftertaste. Comments: this session starts extremely well. A genuine malternative – well, it’s more to my liking than many malts. SGP:551 - 86 points.

Château Garreau 1998 (40%, OB, Bas-Armagnac, +/-2014)

Château Garreau 1998 (40%, OB, Bas-Armagnac, +/-2014) Two stars and a half Picture without the vintage. The good people in Armagnac are so laid-back and sometimes ‘unconcerned’ that it’s almost impossible to find acceptable pictures of their bottlings on the Web. This one’s also got one flaw that’s to be seen almost everywhere down there: a very low strength. Colour: dark amber. Nose: more classic Armagnac, straight on prunes and raisins, plus cake and roasted chestnuts. I enjoy these touches of wood smoke, and even the wee notes of bacon (that’s recently become highly carcinogenic, apparently). A style that my father used to enjoy, and before him my grandpa, and before him my… Mouth: yeah, even after a long break, it suffers a bit after the stronger Charron, and indeed it’s more classic Armagnac, with a grapy side, more prunes, tea tannins, stewed fruits, a touch of honey… Perfectly acceptable, just not extremely interesting. Finish: a bit short, becoming drying. Rosehip tea, perhaps? Some caramel. Comments: my father, and before him my grandpa, and before him my grand-grandpa would have liked this. I find it a tad un-modern. SGP:551 - 78 points.

Another try at Garreau, perhaps?...

Château Garreau 1996 (40%, OB, Bas-Armagnac, +/-2014)

Château Garreau 1996 (40%, OB, Bas-Armagnac, +/-2014) Three stars and a half Colour: deep brownish amber. Nose: rounder, more chocolaty, more roasted, more cake-y. Roasted pecans, roasted raisins, brioche, then orange blossom and a little lemon balm, which is lovely, then a touch of earthy rye that comes together with a little old wood. I really like this nose, let’s hope the palate won’t be too flabby… Mouth: not! Excellent, starting with orange marmalade, and going on with some orange zests covered with chocolate, perhaps watermelons and strawberries, then a funny touch of moscatel. Great maturity, good body. Finish: medium, quite fruity, with some depth. Oranges, a little honey, sultanas. Comments: a sipper. You could watch just any stupid TV show with this in hand. Even Jeb Bush talking about France. Yeah, this Armagnac is that good. SGP:641 - 84 points.

Back to Charron…

Domaine de Charron 1995/2015 (48.9%, OB, Bas-Armagnac, cask #52)

Domaine de Charron 1995/2015 (48.9%, OB, Bas-Armagnac, cask #52) Four stars and a half Colour: bright amber. Nose: perfecto. Oranges, quinces, orange blossom, oak vanilla, mango chutney, stewed peaches, sultanas, ripe mirabelles. Very fruity, perfectly fresh and balanced, extremely seductive (and yet absolutely not whorish). This will be quick. Mouth: the oak imparts hints of well-matured bourbon, but there’s also a little cooked wine, Marsala, then cinnamon cake, stewed peaches, golden raisins, a touch of chocolate… It’s the freshness that’s really impressive here. Finish: rather long, fresh and fruity, with touches of pencil shavings, vanilla, and more stewed peaches. A drop of mint essence in the aftertaste – for the road. Comments: totally a malternative. Like old-style Macallan? You may try this! (for a fraction of the price). SGP:651 - 88 points.

1994 please…

Domaine Lous Pibous 1994/2015 (53.7%, L'Encantada, Bas-Armagnac)

Domaine Lous Pibous 1994/2015 (53.7%, L'Encantada, Bas-Armagnac) Five stars Some pure folle blanche, selected by some crazy young independent bottlers down there in Gers. We’ve already tried some gems from them. Cask strength, no filtration, no colouring… Colour: dark red amber. Nose: this one’s rounder and thicker, apparently. More rich honey, prunes, raisins, jams and marmalades… Before some very lovely floral notes arise, such as lilies, perhaps. I’m asking you, who needs some sherried Speysider when you can buy this? (ooh, I can hear some flak coming my way)… With water: some fresh oak, then putty, whiffs of grass smoke, cigars, earth… Shall e call this one ‘the malt killer’? Mouth (neat): exceptional. Brilliant jammy fruitiness (oranges, quinces, plums) with a citrusy underline, and just the right amount of honey and maple syrup. And agave syrup. Man this rocks. With water: it’s one of these spirits that can be both ultra-focussed and complex. Adore these oranges, the fine spices, the herbal touches… Finish: long, appropriately drier and grassier. Leaves your palate clean! Comments: very impressed. In this case, it’s not a malternative, malt is becoming a brandinative (hey?), just like it was one century ago. SGP:651 - 90 points.

But was that the vintage? Let’s find out…

Domaine de Charron 1994/2015 (49%, OB, Bas-Armagnac)

Domaine de Charron 1994/2015 (49%, OB, Bas-Armagnac) Four stars and a half I believe Charron do baco. Again, genuinely cask strength, no additives… In short, as Dame Nature intended. Colour: deep amber. Nose: oh great, we’re having a fight between L’Encantada and Charron. It’s Ali vs. Frazier! Once again, this style is a tad more ‘contemporary’, with more vanilla and oak, but everything mingled to perfection. Exceptional roasted nuts of all kinds, herbs, rubbed orange skin, walnuts, quinces, apricots, tobacco, a wee bit of ham again… I find this totally exceptional. Also rosewood, linoleum, wax polish… A killer, a killer. Mouth: the oak’s a notch loud, perhaps (black tea, menthol) but since oranges, mandarins, and quinces are soon to join in the dancing, it’s a happy ending. Pepper, cinnamon, even a little tar, roasted peanuts… The body’s perfect. Finish: long, with an oak that gets loudish, but that’s not uncommon in Armgnac. Loses one or two points. Comments: magnificent Armagnac once again, but the Los Pibous had the upper hand in the finish, because of a better-integrated oak. Or maybe is it another case of folle blanche defeating baco? A close call. SGP:661 - 88 points.

Good, we’ve got two other L’Encantada on the table, plus an older Garreau at 40% vol. What would you do? I agree, have the lighter one first… (thank you!)

Château Garreau 1985 (40%, OB, Bas-Armagnac, +/-2010)

Château Garreau 1985 (40%, OB, Bas-Armagnac, +/-2010) Four stars40%? I promise we’ll do this carefully, slowly, respectfully… Colour: very dark amber. Nose: not one to rush indeed. Delicate, whispering, perhaps a little sweet/honeyed, with an obvious rancio at this age, a drop of sweet old balsamico from Modena, some pipe tobacco, and a growing earthiness, between damp peat and mushrooms. Very soft, elegant and complex, perhaps a little fragile. I’m sacred now… Mouth: yes and no. Yes for the perfect prunes, raisins, and old sweet wine (all of them, really, even old Port, PX, moscatel, Sauternes, Alsatian late harvest, whatever)… and rather no because of the low-energy, the almost dilettante way in which this baby sends you its flavours. What a shame, this is glorious spirit. Murderers! (hey, I’m joking). Finish: not that short and not that thin, mind you. Superb honeyness. Comments: mixed feelings. The spirit is simply exceptional, truly exceptional. But the body’s thin at times, which is highly frustrating. Look, this at 50% vol. would deserve 90 in my little book. Perhaps even a little more. Please, please… SGP:551 - 85 points.

Domaine Del Cassou 1992/2015 (46.4%, L’Encantada, Bas-Armagnac)

Domaine Del Cassou 1992/2015 (46.4%, L’Encantada, Bas-Armagnac) Four stars Colour: bright amber. Nose: a pastry shop. Croissants au beurre, fresh Danish, then sultanas. I find it a little simpler than the Los Pibous, rounder for sure, and more on sweet things. Brioche, raisins, hazelnut liqueur, tinned apricots, dried figs… And just a huge bag of sultanas, plus a large plate of dates. The softer and rounder side of Armagnac, I’d say. The Auchentoshan of Gascogne. Mouth: indeed. The body’s perfect, and its got oomph and zing, but the core remains round and sweet. Marc de Bourgogne (or Marc de Gascogne?) plus a little honey, a feeling of Calvados, and pears. The backbone’s quite grassy though, around apple peeling. Finish: medium, rather grassy, with something very ‘artisan’. Wait, pot still Armagnac? That can’t be! But I’m no Armagnac expert, as everybody very well knows… Comments: great, while others are just greater. That’s what’s great with indie bottlers, they can have various styles and please just anyone. SGP:561 - 85 points.

And he insists…

Domaine Del Cassou 1988/2015 (42.1%, L’Encantada, Bas-Armagnac)

Domaine Del Cassou 1988/2015 (42.1%, L’Encantada, Bas-Armagnac) Four stars Probably refill wood, according to the colour. Ah they wanna play! Colour: gold. Nose: yeah, very funny. Is this Armagnac? Or is it a blend of Kilchoman, Mezcal, Jamaican rum, and Octomore? All that married in a manzanilla cask? Or was that Château-Chalon? And why did you add vase water, seawater, and asparagus juice? In short, what is this? Mouth: sweet Vishnu, what a spirit! I really don’t know where we are. Perhaps on a different planet? Grassy, phenolic, earthy, malty at times, agave-y at other times… Should this be malt whisky – and I’m sure no blind-taster would tell you it’s not – you’d say a blend of Clynelish, Pulteney, and a waxy/meaty one. Say Lochnagar. Some bottled joke. Finish: long, grassy, briny. Olives in Armagnac, is that possible? And salt in the aftertaste? Only the (subtle) raisins may give it away. Comments: sure we can take a good joke. Of course it’s Armagnac,  but should we ask them to do it again, I’m almost sure they couldn’t. Coz this is bottled luck, or a Martian’s whisky. SGP:462 - 87 points.

It’s all becoming esoteric, better stop now. Zurtruflgn jsghakdh iofkksbn! That means ‘see you tomorrow!’ in southern Martian.


Whiskyfun fav of the month

October 2015

Favourite recent bottling:
Karuizawa 30 yo 1984/2015 (61.6%, OB, LMDW, sherry cask, cask #8838)  - WF 94

Favourite older bottling:
Strathisla 1963/2003 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail) - WF 91

Favourite bang for your buck bottling:
Lagavulin 12 yo 'Special Release 2015' (56.8%, OB) - WF 92

Favourite malternative:
Rémi Landier ‘Héritage Coupe N°2’ (45%, OB, Cognac, Fins Bois, 2015) - WF 90







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