Let’s keep brandy week going with another armagnac and another sample from Sku (who seems to have entered a very conventional period in his label making career). If Monday’s review was of a bottling by an upstart indie of an armagnac from an obscure domaine, today’s is of a release from a very established name: Dartigalongue. The business was established in the 19th century and has remained in the founding family ever since. Like Delord—another established name—Dartigalongue has long been available in the US as well. I remember being intrigued by some old releases at very reasonable seeming prices (compared to single malt) at a Binny’s store in Chicago some years ago. But brandy mavens didn’t seem very high on them and I resisted pulling the trigger: old spirits at reasonable prices are only good values if what’s in the bottle is also actually good. (The same was true of Delord, by the way, and as it turns out, I’ve been very underwhelmed by the Delords I’ve tried.) This release was a special selection by Seelbach’s, an online store that focuses on craft producers. I’m not entirely sure if Dartigalongue quite qualify as a craft producer anymore but it’s also not a point I want to litigate. Let’s see what it’s like. Continue reading
Okay, it’s not clear if more than three people are still reading my whisky reviews so let’s do a week of brandy. First up, a Lous Pibous from armagnac indie darlings, L’Encantada. I’m no armagnac maven—and nor do I follow these releases closely—but Lous Pibous seems to be the big name among actual armagnac mavens. A number of casks of Pibous have made it to the US in recent years, showing up as exclusives at various stores around the country. And since they’re all (?) single casks they inspire the kind of devotional comparative assessment that you can only expect from whisky geeks—which is basically what all the new brandy mavens in the US started out as. What’s the point of drinking something, they seem to say, if you can’t do a line-up of 12 sibling casks and rank them vis a vis one another? This particular single cask was not bottled by a store but was a personal selection by a member of a brandy club, I think. Or at least so Sku—who is the source of the sample with an uncharacteristically legible label—told me. I believe it has a very strong reputation. I’ve previously reviewed a few other L’Encantada Pibous—including two more 1996s (here and here)—and if this is as good as those I’ll be pleased. Let’s see if it is. Continue reading
Continuing with review of things that are not whisky, here is a review of a brandy, more specifically of an Armagnac. And if you want to be even more specific, a review of an Armagnac from the Ténarèze region. I note this latter because the vast majority of Armagnacs I’ve had are from the dominant Bas-Armaganc region. Exceptions include a Pellehaut that I liked a lot and a couple of Grangeries that I had a more variable experience with (here and here). All those were brought in by K&L as is this one. It’s no secret that I find the K&L marketing style exhausting and often ridiculous but it must be said they have done more than any other store in the US in expanding brandy horizons here. Pouchegu is, or rather was, a micro-producer even by the rustic standards of Armagnac. In fact, as per the K&L notes, they never produced on a commercial scale or with a commercial market in mind. And with the passing of the proprietor, Pierre Laporte, there may not be any more Pouchegu being made. There is something melancholy about drinking a spirit with such a backstory but it’s also an opportunity to celebrate the skills of its maker. Well, if it’s good, I suppose; but as per the source of my sample—the outsider artist, Sku—it is very good. He does note “huge oak notes” though—Laporte believed in using new Limousin oak casks, apparenrly—and that’s rarely my speed. Let’s see. Continue reading
I reviewed a pretty old Armagnac last month, a 40+ yo Le Sablé a Lagrange 1974. That was from a very small producer and bottled by the respected indie outfit L’Encantada. Today’s armagnac is a bit younger, though not very much so at 33 years of age, and was also distilled in the 1970s. It is from an altogether larger producer, Delord, who have a fairly established presence in the US. I’ve previously reviewed their 25 yo, which I found to be just okay. Like that one this 33 yo is also bottled at 40%. As to whether that’s because they diluted a parcel of casks down to stretch the bottling or because they vatted some lower strength casks up past 40%, I have no idea. I do hope at any rate that this won’t taste too washed out. There is no reason, of course, that it should. I’ve had some older malts at similar strengths that were underpowered but I’ve also had others that were quite pleasurable anyway. Where will this fall? Only one way to tell. Continue reading
It’s been a while since my last armagnac review. That was a 23 yo Lous Pibous. This one is almost twice that age: it was distilled in 1974 and bottled a few years ago. Like the previous this was also bottled by L’Encantada, the French independent bottler who’re more responsible probably than anyone else for raising the profile of armagnac among whisky drinkers, at least in the US. This particular armagnac is from a small producer that is no longer around. As per the L’Encantada website, there were only three distillations, in 1973, 1974 and 1976 and all the brandy was aged for 40 years or more. Presumably this was never meant for commercial release. My understanding is that the L’Encantada team wanders the countryside on the weekends in their jalopies, raiding the cellars of old country houses. Did they find a good one here? I was not super impressed by the last similarly aged armagnac I reviewed (a 50 yo Chateau de la Grangerie) but perhaps this one will be better. Let’s see. Continue reading
Let’s keep rolling with the themes and do a week of brandy reviews. First up, another Lous Pibous armagnac bottled by L’Encantada. I have previously reviewed casks 187 and 188, both distilled in 1996. Here now is cask 124, distilled in 1993 and three years older than the other two. You only need to take one glance at the label on the bottle alongside to know who my sample came from. Yes, it is he. Well, I liked those 1996 casks a fair bit, and I think this one is supposed to be even better. Let’s see if that’s how it works out for me.
Lous Pibous 23, 1993 (52.5%; L’Encantada; cask 124; from a sample from a friend)
Nose: Rich, notes of dried orange peel, dark marmalade, apricots, leather. On the second sniff there’s some cinnamon and oak. As it sits the apricot comes to the fore. With a few drops of water there’s more of the orange peel. Continue reading
Last month I reviewed the first of two casks of Lous Pibous 20, 1996 from the Armagnac bottlers, L’Encantada, who are all the rage in American brandy circles these days. That was cask 187 and I liked it quite a lot even though I didn’t find a whole lot of complexity in it. Here now is cask 188. Both samples came to me from Sku who was involved in the selection of these casks for the American market. I have no further introductory patter, so let’s get right to it.
Lous Pibous 20, 1996, Cask 188 (53.6%; L’Encantada; from a sample from a friend)
Nose: Orange peel, cola, cinnamon, raisins, caramel. Not much change really with time. With water the stickier notes get a little more emphasis and the oak/cinnamon recedes a little. Continue reading
L’Encantada appear to be the major independent bottlers of Armagnac these days, or at least the ones who thrill the hearts of whisky geeks the most. They are a group of brandy enthusiasts themselves who some years ago began to purchase and bottle casks of Armagnac from small producers in Gascony. You can read a little more about them on the K&L blog. (That write-up is by Sku, who now writes occasionally for K&L and who is also the source of this sample.) These Pibous releases established the L’Encantada reputation in the US, coming at a time when many American bourbon mavens were, if not making a move to Armagnac, beginning to drink it in a bigger way. There were a few of these Pibous casks selected by and bottled for a private group of brandy geeks; a small number of bottles from each cask made it to retail at K&L, who’d facilitated the sale (given the laws in the US, private citizens cannot purchase spirits directly from importers or distributors). Sku was a part of this group, I believe. Since then a number of other L’Encantada casks have hit the American market (see, for example, this one). Anyway, I’ve been meaning to taste and review these Pibous casks ever since Sku passed these samples on to me; here now are my notes on cask 187, a 20 yo distilled in 1996 and bottled at cask strength. Continue reading
More Armaganac. At the end of January I had a review of a 33 yo Baraillon distilled in 1985 that I thought was just okay—drinkable but nothing special. After reviewing that sample I realized that I actually owned a bottle of another 33 yo Baraillon, this one distilled in 1984. I’d purchased it about a year ago along with some other Armagnacs and forgotten all about it (and the others too). I have to admit the 1985 did not make me feel very enthusiastic about opening the 1984 but, as you know, I am committed to positivity. And so here we are. Unlike the 1985, which was a K&L exclusive, this 1984 was a general release. Or so I think anyway. I bought it from Astor in New York and I don’t remember the listing trumpeting it as an exclusive cask. Will this bottle restore my confidence in Baraillon or will it shake it further? Let’s see.
(It strikes me that I am going backwards in time with my Baraillon reviews. The very first one was of a 1986 cask—that was also a K&L exclusive. Alas, I don’t have any 1983 casks lined up and nor do I know of any available in the US.) Continue reading
Having noted that I’ve been buying Armagnac but not actually opening very many of those bottles, here is one that I purchased just about a month ago and have now opened. While Sku suggested that I try the Baraillon 33 before buying, this one he recommended highly. It is one of several K&L exclusives (I think) bottled last year. L’Encatada, as far as I can make out, are a sort of independent bottler of Armagnacs, purchasing barrels from small producers—which are legion in the world of Armagnac—and making them more widely available. Prices for Armagnac are slowly rising—it wasn’t that long ago that K&L sold a 30 year old Baraillon for $80; now the 33 year old that I reviewed last week is going for $125. And this Bidets (which is still available) is at $140. Then again, compared to the world of Scotch whisky and bourbon this is still a great value for the age. However, the value for the age doesn’t mean a whole lot (as with the Baraillon 33) if what’s in the bottle isn’t anything to write home about. Let’s see if I like this one more. Continue reading
It’s been almost two and a half years since my last Armagnac review. I think that’s a pretty good allegory of how my almost-love affair with brandy has gone in the last few years. I’d say that it’s a pretty good allegory of how the average whisky geek’s relationship with brandy has gone in that period as well, but that would be too presumptuous. Maybe it’s because Sku retired his blog but it hasn’t felt for a while that whisky geeks are still excited about brandy in general and Armagnac in particular. Am I wrong? (And if not, is that true of rum as well?) Well, to tell the truth, it’s not that I haven’t been buying any Armagnac in the last two and a half years—it’s more that I don’t seem to get around to opening any of what I have bought. Maybe I should do that before buying any more. Speaking of which, I was going to buy a bottle of this K&L exclusive Baraillon, but when I was in L.A recently, Sku suggested I taste a sample first and passed one on to me (along with a few others). Let’s see if I should have ignored him. Continue reading
Last week I had a review of a 20 yo Chateau de la Grangerie distilled in 1994 and bottled for K&L in California. I was not a fan. This 50 yo from 1964 was bottled at the same time, also for K&L. Is it much better? It’s certainly the oldest Armagnac I’ve yet had
Chateau de la Grangerie 50, 1964 (43%; bottled for K&L; from a bottle split)
Nose: Rich fruit (plum, orange peel, a bit of apricot) and oak and spice (cinnamon mostly, some clove too). Gets more leathery as it sits and the orange peel expands and there’s some black tea as well. Gets thinner with a lot of time and there’s a slight note of talcum powder as well.
Here is my fourth Armagnac review and the third review of a K&L exclusive Armagnac. I thought their Domaine de Baraillon 30 was quite good and that the Chateau de Pellehaut 17 was excellent and so my hopes are up for this one as well. Like Pellehaut, Chateau de la Grangerie is located in the Ténarèze appellation; unlike it, this is made entirely from the Ugni Blanc grape. K&L has brought in a number of other Armagnacs as well from this producer—indeed next week I will have a review of a much older one. And that more or less exhausts my opening patter…and so let’s get right to it.
Chateau de la Grangerie 20, 1994 (45.5%; bottled for K&L; from a sample from a friend)
Chateau de Pellehaut is in the Armagnac-Ténarèze appellation/region (Bas-Armagnac is the dominant one of the three; Haut-Armagnac is the third). Not knowing very much about the regions or their characteristic styles, I can only parrot what I have gleaned from other sources: brandies produced in Armagnac-Ténarèze are said to be more rustic and robust than those produced in Bas-Armagnac. This was made entirely from the Folle Blanche grape, which is historically the most important grape in Cognac and Armagnac production. I’m afraid I don’t know enough to be able to tell you how Folle Blanche Armagnac might differ from that made from other grapes—perhaps someone with more experience can fill us in on this in the comments.
This was bottled by K&L in California a few years ago. They’ve really done a remarkable job of promoting Armagnac in recent years. Continue reading
Last week I posted my first Armagnac review, of the 30 yo Domaine de Baraillon bottled for K&L in California. That one is long gone. I remarked that at $80 a bottle it had seemed like an unthinkable value for someone like me who is reeling from the sharp increase in single malt whisky prices over the last few years. (Truth be told, it has been a very, very long time since any officially bottled 30 yo single malt whisky has been available for less than $100, leave alone any that were actually of high quality.) Well, today’s Armagnac is slightly younger, but only slightly at 25 years old, but it is an even better value on the face of it: it is available for close to $60 in a number of markets. Unlike the de Baraillon, it’s also widely and seemingly continuously available. As such I am hoping that I will like it a lot too.
Given the fact that they have a very snazzy website Delord is obviously not a small-scale farm producer. I have to admit I have a knee-jerk inclination to favour the idea of farm producers when it comes to Calvados and Armagnac—I have to constantly remind myself that almost no Scottish distillery fits that bill. Anyway, let’s see what this is like. Continue reading
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. Continue reading