Dec 9, 2011

tasting a Bas Armagnac: Laberdolive Vintage 1995...

Gascony has a long history of cooperage and producing wine going all the way back to Roman times but only around 17th century the Dutch brought and encouraged the idea of distilling wine. Throughout their search to find the most suitable grape varieties and best wood for the production they ended up in Armagnac province. Today the area is divided into three regions: Bas Armagnac, Tenareze and Haut Armagnac. Traditionally armagnac is distilled only once in copper alembics using continuous distillation method but nowadays some estates are also double-distilling their wine using pot stills. After the distillation the condensed spirit is pumped to black Gascon oak barrels and aged in warehouses.

The cellar master decides which barrels to keep longer for special vintage releases and which barrels to empty earlier for blending purposes. Common and affordable expressions in the market are usually blends and they have a specific terminology on their labels indicating their age: 3 stars or VS (the youngest component is one year old), VSOP (the youngest component is 4 years old), Napoléon (the youngest component is 6 years old), XO or Hors d'age (the youngest component is 10 years old), XO Premium (the youngest component is 20 years old) or basically the age of the youngest component in the blend written on the label, like simply "20 years old". On the other hand single vintage Armagnac bottlings are limited releases, harder to find and usually more expensive than blends. Some of those vintage expressions can also be single cask expressions but most of them are vatted casks from the same distillery and year. Their labels indicate the year of the distillation and the estate the grapes are coming from.


Needless to say during our stay in Toulouse I got pretty much obsessed to taste as many expressions of Armagnac as I can. Different blends from Chateau de Laubade and Samalens estates are relatively easier to find in bars and restaurants. They have very good expressions and are totally affordable. I definitely recommend to order one when you see them on the shelf but vintage bottlings are defining a totally different territory. Laberdolive, Darroze and Boingneres are the most famous estates releasing exceptional vintage expressions. When I started eventually to look for a bottle to bring back home I happened to sample a 1979 vintage of Laberdolive in one of the shops in Toulouse and was simply blown away. Knowing that I could never purchase an old expression like that I concentrated to find a younger and affordable vintage from Laberdolive and ended up with a bottle of 1995 vintage...

Laberdolive Bas Armagnac Domaine de Jaurrey Vintage 1995 (46.0%): Laberdolive estate is run by the same family for over five generations. They only bottle vintage releases at cask strength with no additives whatsoever. The family still fires their alembics with open fire using oak logs only. The soil of the estate is extremely sandy giving the spirit its characteristic delicate fruity and spicy notes. Even the wood they are using for their barrels come from their own forests. Cannot wait to pour and taste it... Color: Rich copper, with a red hue. Nose: Red plum, raisins and sultanas. Warm, like nosing a hot toddy. Letting it breathe adds oak, butterscotch, caramel and vanilla notes. After some time I even started to nose very gentle fire place ash, latex gloves and burnt cookies. Palate: It has a nice enjoyable harsh kick. Raisin cookies, cinnamon and nutmeg. Time calms it down nicely. Almost the same effect like adding a few drops of water to whisky. I start to get the soothing taste of honey and cloves. Quince paste and candied figs. Now I am fully aware of that I am tasting a fruit brandy not a grain spirit. Finish: Medium long. Maybe a little too much on the sweet side with cinnamon notes. Overall: I very much enjoyed it. It is less gentle than a cognac which I really liked. Definitely benefits from airing quite a lot like other aged grape brandies. I would wait at least for ten minutes after I pour it in the glass next time. This vintage tasted like it was at the border of being too sweet and got bottled at a perfect time. A very good alternative to sherry cask finished whiskies, especially this time of the year. Happy holidays...