Okay, let’s stay in the brandy family for Wednesday reviews but let’s mix in some Armagnac with the Calvados. I know even less about Armagnac than about Calvados, if such a thing is possible. I blame Charles Neal for this: unlike his great book on Calvados, his book on Armagnac is out of print (and the reviews for it are not as strong). I know it is a grape brandy like Cognac: I know that unlike Cognac, and like a lot of Calvados, it is single-distilled; I know that it hails from Gascony; and I know that it has three sub-appellations, of which bas-Armagnac has the status that Pays d’Auge has in Calvados. That is more or less where my knowledge ends. I know very little about the producers and about which have stronger reputations than others. This is a bit of a shame as the variety of Armagnac available in the US is greater than that of Calvados and the prices are much better. If you know of a good guide to Armagnac producers please point me in its direction.
This is a 30 yo, distilled in 1986 and bottled this year for K&L in California. They sold it for all of $80 and at that price for a 30 yo I was enticed into taking a flyer on it—I can’t help but think like a whisky drinker, you see. I bought a couple of other older Armagnacs around the same time. I’ve liked all I’ve tried so far but I’m finding a much narrower band of aromas and flavours than prevail in the single malt world. Perhaps it’s best to think of cask-aged brandy as the category and Calvados, Armagnac, Cognac etc. as together offering the diversity of profiles available in the single malt world? Or more likely, I just need to drink a lot more of it, from different regions and grape types and of different ages. I’ll do my best. In the meantime, please enjoy this uneducated review.
Domaine de Barraillon 30, 1986 (46%; bottled for K&L; from my own bottle)
Nose: Pipe tobacco, clove, dried orange peel, leather, raisins. Lovely. Gets sweeter as it sits and there’s more wood, but it’s a sweet woodiness, not tannic. With a lot of time the notes of tobacco and orange peel are at the top and they’re quite lovely together.
Palate: More wood here (with some mild tannic grip) but otherwise it’s pretty much as advertised by the nose at first. The mouthfeel is a bit thin. Gets drier and woodier as it goes and the fruit recedes a bit at first and then more than a bit. Not a whole lot more happening with time.
Finish: Medium. The wood is even more present here and the whole gets drier and spicier (cinnamon now over the clove).
Comments: I loved the nose; the palate and finish did progressively less for me, with the wood a bit too prominent. The oakiness will probably appeal to bourbon drinkers. However, this very much appeals to me as a single malt drinker as well: it’s very much in the idiom of dry, heavily sherried malts, especially on the nose. I don’t know that there are many better sherried malts for the $80 I paid for this. However, while there certainly also aren’t any 30 year old single malts for $80, I would suggest that you don’t compare the ages: this doesn’t have any of the complexity or development of good older whisky. Yes, mine is a whisky-centric view but at this point in my Armagnac exploration it’s hard for me to not have those biases.
Rating: 87 points.