Janneau VSOP

Maker: Janneau (distills, ages and bottles), Condom, Gers, France.20190621_175548.jpg

Region: Armagnac

Age category: VSOP (at least 4 y/o)

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $56

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: French oak, raisins, vanilla, dried orange peel.

Palate: Mildly fruity. Fruit punch, oak.

Finish: Subtle. Sangria, alcohol, oak.

Parting words: Janneau VSOP is one of the better distributed Armagnacs in Michigan, which is admittedly a low bar. It’s a solid one, though. It’s relatively subtle on the palate and finish but it’s an enjoyable, fruity pour for a pretty good price. Its accessibility also makes it a good choice for newcomers to Armagnac. My biggest complaint is the squat bottle that takes up a lot of room on the shelf. Janneau VSOP is recommended.

 

Artez Historical Varietal Set

Maker: Artez, Arthez-d’Armagnac, Landes, France

Grapes: Ugni Blanc, Folle Branche, Baco (Blanc)

Place of origin: Bas Armagnac

Age category: Napoleon (10 y/o)

ABV: 40%

Price: $50/3 200 ml bottles

UB= Ugni Blanc, FB= Folle Blanche, BB= Baco

Appearance

UB: Bright copper.

FB: Bright copper.

BB: Slightly darker.

Nose

UB: Oak, caramel, Amaretto, leather.

FB: Cherry, plum, oak,

BB: Blackberry, anise.

Palate

UB: Semi-dry. Balanced, alcohol, cream, vanilla, leather.

FB: Mild. Grape, tarragon, leather.

BB: Richer, Grape/apple juice, burn.

Finish

UB: Eucalyptus, bitter oak.

FB: Oak, raisin.

BB: Very mild, dark fruit, touch of oak.

Parting words: Artez is a small producer of Armagnac (and a few other things) with vineyards in the west of Lower Armagnac. They grow three varieties of grapes on their estate: Ugni Blanc (best known for Cognac), Folle Blanche (the original Armagnac variety) and Baco Blanc (the most common variety in Armagnac currently). So a three bottle set like this is an obvious thing to put out.

Going in, I was skeptical as to whether I would be able to tell the difference (if any) between these three bottles from the same maker at the same age. I actually was! To summarize each in one word: UB is creamy, FB is fruity and BB is spicy (anise specifically). All three and the set as a whole is recommended.

 

Domaine d’Ognoas XO

Maker: Domaine d’Ognoas, Arthez d’Armagnac, Landes, France.

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The Bottle

Grapes: Baco, Ugni Blanc, Folle Branche.

Place of origin: Bas-Armagnac

Age: XO (at least 10 y/o)

Purchased for $60 (Astor Wines)

Appearance: Oxidized blood.

Nose: Alcohol, old oak, raisins, cherry wine.

Palate: Burn, macerated raisins, oak, cherry vanilla ice cream.

Finish: Dates, walnuts, old leather.

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The Domaine in 2014

Parting words: The history of the Ognoas estate dates back to the viscounts of Marsan in the Central (aka High) Middle Ages but the estate as it exists now traces its history to the 18th & 19th century Lormand family. Etienne Lormand, born around 1701 to a bourgeois family in Bayonne, purchased the estate in 1770 and added a neighboring one in 1775. The last of the Lormands, Jacques-Taurin (b. 1762), died without heirs in 1842 and left the estate to the church. Armagnac was first made at the estate by the Lormands.

In 1905 the property (along with many others) was nationalized and it has remained in the hands of the French government since then. The over 1600 acre estate includes hiking trails, vineyards, forests (which supply the wood for the barrels), other agriculture, a fortified 13th century house, an 18th century mill, renovated tenant cottages available for rent, and more.

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The still

The wood-fired continuous still at Ognoas is said by the domaine to be the oldest working still in Gascony. It dates from 1804 with additions and improvements made to it throughout the 19th century.

The d’Ognoas line includes the usual suspects: VS, VSOP, XO, hors d’age, XO premium, and Millésime. Quality XO Armagnac can be hard to find around here, and harder to find at a reasonable price. When Liz had to be in NYC for work a few months ago, I asked her to pick up a bottle of this for me. At $60 (plus NYC taxes) d’Ognoas XO is an excellent value. It’s the sort of thing that’s right up my alley: affordable and easy-drinking but not boring. Domaine d’Orgnoas XO is highly recommended.

Photos: 1- mine. 2 & 3- from Domaine d’Ognoas media library.

Domaine d’Espérance, 5 ans

Maker: Domaine d’Espérance, Mauvezin-d’Armagnac, Landes, France.20171019_164323.jpg

Grape: Baco Blanc

Region: Bas-Armagnac

Age: 5 y/o

ABV: 40.2%

Michigan state minimum: $62

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Alcohol, raisin bread, toasted French oak.

Palate: Sugared raisins, alcohol, vanilla, clove, oak.

Finish: Rubbery, with more dried fruit and alcohol.

Parting words: Why am I reviewing a French brandy? First, it’s my blog and I’ll do what I like, man. Secondly, and more importantly, I review foreign brandies so that I can better know what I’m talking about when I review Michigan and other US brandies. The focus of this blog is now and always will be local (or at least North American) wine and spirits but I can’t place them in their proper context without understanding them globally.

Domaine d’Espérance, 5 ans is, I think, the second least expensive Armagnac available in the state of Michigan. It’s definately the cheapest Espérance expression available with the XO at $86 and the 1998 vintage at $123. It’s brash and lacks complexity compared to older Armagnacs, but is still an enjoyable after dinner or afternoon sip, especially as the weather turns cold. The only thing unpleasant is the rubber in the finish, but it isn’t too obnoxious. Having cut my proverbial teeth on bourbon, I had a hard time bringing myself to mix a spirit that costs $62 but it does mix well, though I would stick to quality, classic cocktails. Domaine d’Espérance, 5 ans is recommended.

 

 

Larressingle VSOP

Maker: Larressingle, Condom, Gers, Occitanie (formerly Midi-Pyrénées), France.20161220_084818.jpg

Region: Armagnac (blend of Bas-Armagnac and Ténarèze).

Grapes: Ugli Blanc, Folle Branche (according to the internet).

Vintage: NV

Age grade: VSOP (at least 3 y/o, though the importer says this is 8 y/o).

Note: 20% of the blend was double distilled, as opposed to the customary single distillation.

ABV: 40%

Price: $50 (Party Source)

Appearance: Light caramel.

Nose: Apple juice, passito wine, stollen, old oak.

Palate: Light bodied and light in flavor. Caramel, prune juice, vanilla.

Finish: Alcohol, raisins, a little oak.

Parting words: My bottle of Larressingle VSOP is something of a mystery. I know I bought it locally but it is not on the state list and I can’t find any of sign it ever being on the list. I won’t say where I got it (snitches get stitches) but however it got here, I’m glad I was able to pick up a bottle.

Armagnac fans are fond of saying how much more flavorful and affordable Armagnac is vs. Cognac. I’m not sure where that is the case, but it isn’t here. Larressingle VSOP is affordable for an Armagnac, but it’s not very flavorful at all. The last brandy I reviewed, D’usse VSOP Cognac, was about the same price but with twice the flavor.

Despite the watery taste, Larressingle VSOP mixes pretty well. I tried it in an Old Fashioned, a Japanese Cocktail, a Continental Sour (sour plus red wine) and the quintessential Armagnac drink, the d’Artagnan (Arm + orange liqueur, oj, sugar and dry sparkling wine), named for the literary Gascon swashbuckler.

If you can find Larressingle VSOP for around $40, I recommend buying it. Otherwise, it is only mildly recommended for mixing or as an option for those just dipping their toe into the Armagnac pool.

 

Chateau du Tariquet, 8 years old.

Maker: Chateau du Tarquiet, Éauze, Condom, Gers, France.wp-1468538722885.jpg

Grape: Folle Blanche (100%)

Place of origin: Tariquet estate, Bas-Armagnac.

Age: 8 y/o (distilled Nov 1999, bottled July 2010)

ABV: 51.1%

Purchased for $64 (Vine & Table, Carmel, Indiana)

Appearance: Dark auburn with lots of closely spaced legs.

Nose: Overdone oatmeal raisin cookies: Vanilla, toasted cookie, raisins.

Palate: Alcohol, dried figs, old oak.

Finish: Hot, fading into macerated raisins.

Parting words: Armagnac is a type of French brandy produced in the Armagnac region of southwestern France. It differs from Cognac in a few ways. First, it’s made in a different region altogether. Second, Armagnac is made in Alembic continuous stills unlike Cognac, and it is only distilled once, also unlike Cognac which is distilled twice. This can give Armagnac a bold, rustic character that sets it apart from its mild, easy drinking cousin.

There’s not a lot of information on this Armagnac house to be found on the internet. What I was able to discover was that Tarquiet produces a fairly wide assortment of Armagnacs as well as Cote de Gascogne wines. The vineyards were purchased by the Arnaud family (bear-trainers by trade) in 1912. Hélène Arnaud married a young hairdresser named Pierre Grassa after World War II and the estate passed into the hands of the Grassa family. Armin and Rémy Grassa, grandsons of Hélène and Pierre, are now chief winemakers at the estate.

I don’t review a lot of Armagnacs, but I would like to review more. The biggest obstacle to that is the extremely limited select of them in Michigan. So I try to pick some up when I can when traveling. This one appealed to me because it is relatively affordable and available at cask strength. It’s not the most flavorful one I’ve had, but it has some very nice oak characteristics and rich raisin flavors that make it fun to drink. I like it. Chateau du Tariquet, 8 years old (100% Folle Blanche, cask strength) is recommended.

NOTE: Factual error about method of distillation has been corrected.

Marie Duffau Napoleon Armagnac

Maker: Delord Family, Armagnac, France

Region: Bas Armagnac, Gers, France

Age: 6 y/o

ABV: 40%

Appearance: Auburn with thick, heavy legs.

Nose: Pungent, rustic, but rounded nose. Solera sherry, prunes, plum eau de vie.

On the palate: Very full-bodied, boozy and sweet. Raisins, prunes, star anise, clove. A tiny tannic hit of oak.

Finish: Warm and dry with a little more oak. Plenty of heat that seems to get more intense after a swallow.

Parting words: Armagnac has long been Cognac’s lesser known older brother, but the upside of that is while Cognac is dominated by big foreign-owned producers (the product of the British love of Cognac), Armagnac is still filled with family producers like the Delords.

This is the first brandy I’ve reviewed for this blog, and it was a fun one. Brandy is not something I drink a lot of, especially in the warmer months, but even on an 80 degree day Marie Duffau was a pleasant companion. She’s brash and spicy, but I’ve always enjoyed the company of such ladies. The Delord family makes a full line of Armagnac, all of which are very good according to bandy-loving friends of mine. Being a younger expression, this one is also a good value and a nice introduction to the flavor profile of Armagnac. Marie Duffau Napoleon Armagnac is recommended.