Bas Armagnac

Armagnac and Bas Armagnac are two very fine brandies from Gascony, a small area in the southwest corner of France. If you’re unfamiliar with Armagnac, you might think of them as less well-known cousins to Cognac, only with a great difference in flavor due to several factors; the area where they are produced, the grapes that are used and methods of distillation. Between Armagnac and Bas Armagnac, the latter is the more racier and intense of the two, in part due to the nature of the lowlands (hence the word “Bas”) which are characterized by undulating hills, sandy soil from ancient sea beds and the bordering forrest of Landes.

Bas Armagnac is distilled from a blend of white grapes, Baco, and Ugni Blanc (Folle Blanche is also used in Armagnac) then aged in large oak barrels anywhere from 12 to 50 years and bottled at cask strength – no water is added to the best examples of Bas Armagnac. This rare spirit, or “eau-de-vie” is rich in aromtaic complexity and earthiness (terroir), all of which can be summed up in one word: Francis Darroze!

Darroze is a bottler of finely aged Bas Armanac. Francis personally selects the barrels when they become available from various estates or domaines in the BA area. He knows the individual producers and the contents of their cellars, visiting regularly while he awaits the maturity of their brandies, as if watching over the growth of young children. It’s not easy to persuade someone to part with a barrel of Bas Armanganc which they tend to sell on special occasions like when one of their daughters is getting married or they need a new roof on the house!

1967 Darroze

My first experience with Darroze Bas Armangnac was two bottles of 1967 from different Domaines, one of them the Domaine de Peyrot pictured below. It still seems like a dream to which nothing else compares… a spirit beyond category. Powerful depth of aromas that capture your attention, completely fascinating to contemplate over and over… the elegance of the ’67 is memorable, if not only for the fact that is was “my first” Darroze – it made the search for affordable vintages that could compete on the same level a most challenging task. Full bodied, a bit of heat and spice, intense but not overpowering.

Well, I have to stop dreaming because there is no more ’67 around to verify my notes or impressions, so I will get back to reality and current tastings, all of which are far above the quality of anything you would possibly expect from a great Bas Armagnac.

Curent tastings: 1979 Domaine de Coquillon (Le Freches – Landes) aged 25 years in oak barrels, 49.3% alcohol. The intensity of the aromas rising from a glass of this precious liquid are fascinating. They completely embrace your senses, and together with a higher alcohol content, almost take your breath away, so be sure to use a large glass, as if for a Barolo, in order to appreciate the bouquet. I often simply take in the aroma several times before tasting, and in between sips as well.  A lovely brilliant amber hue, it smells of orange peel, dried figs, herbs and spices, wild flowers, candied apple, and empty cigar box. The taste is elegant and distinguished. Up front you get the thrill of the exotic dried fruit, pepper and toasted nuts as the initial roundness changes to a slight heated after-burn, evolving into a long finish of tobacco and cloves. At the very end, you’ll feel a warmth in the bottom of your stomach that no words can easily express, but the smile on your face will say it best. A great combination of strength, elegance and raw power in this bottling. 93+

1945 Domaine de Mahu. Labastide d’Armagnac, Landes. Bottled in September 1995, this bottle was aged 50 years in wood barrels. The color is a slight shade lighter than later vintages of Darroze – a beautiful, glowing burnt orange. At 45% alcohol, it strikes me as having more refined, subtle and elegant aromas, if only because it contains a less strong gradation of alcohol that seems to allow the floral notes to be more fully appreciated than other more racy versions. There’s a lovely hint of vanilla mixed with white pepper, wildflowers and honeysuckle. An empty glass displays a definite touch of tobacco and light cacao, even 30 minutes later! This is a sign of an authentic Bas Armagnac.

The taste opens up once the bottle was open for a few weeks and is now showing very well. It has a smoothness with none of the firey intensity typically contained in other Darroze bottlings (which I love!). Again, there is no water is added so it’s possible the aging process has influenced this vintage. It rolls smoothly across the front of the tongue, catching the middle-back of the palette with white pepper and spice, then moving on w/out a burn, just a nice kick and an immensely satisfying finish that evolves, becoming stronger and stronger with a few sips that saturate the tongue and palette. 15 minutes later, 30 minutes later … it still hasn’t disappeared. 98++

1984 Domaine de Bertruc – Francis Darroze. Aged 24 years. 47% alcohol. Intense aromas of floral scents and spice, oak, chestnut leaves, dried roses and cinnamon. On the palette it’s amazingly delicate and gentle – the alcohol doesn’t dominate as in other Darroze examples that reach up to 54%, yet it’s still full bodied and assertive. The India spice peaks in the long, elegant finish, then the rose hips comes out on top w/ caramelized orange peel and bitter chocolate. The finish never fades and is so long, it lasted easily for 20 minutes as I walked slowly up a long hill after dinner. Too bad it was the glass from the last bottle at this restaurant… it will keep me dreaming: was it as real as life? Does it get better than this? 97. July 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

Domaine de Bertruc


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