Gelas Selection

Maker: Gelas, Vic-Fezenac, Gers, Ocittania, France (negociant)

Region: Bas-Armagnac

Age: 3-5 y/o (according to website)

ABV: 40%

Purchased for $45 (Vine & Table)

Appearance: Dark copper.

Nose: French oak, anise, leather, horehound, red pepper.

Palate: Full-bodied and sweet. Caramel, white chocolate, crushed pink peppercorns.

Finish: Red licorice, caramel, black licorice.

Parting words: Maison Gelas is a 150 year old Armagnac negociant. It’s located in Vic-Fezenac, a small town most notable for being one of the few places in France where bullfighting still takes place and for being the birthplace of current French Prime Minister Jean Castex, whose politics this blog does not endorse.

As far as I can tell, this brandy is Gelas’s entry level Armagnac. It’s not quite a VO, not quite a VSOP, but makes for a decent weeknight sipper. The nose is good, and it’s inoffensive and easy to drink, but it lacks the rustic, floral character that Armagnac is known for. I suspect that it has relatively high amounts of caramel, sugar and possibly boisé (although it’s rare in Armagnac). If they would ease off the sugar a bit, I might enjoy this blend more, even if it might taste less refined. As it is, it’s ok, but there are better values at just a few dollars more. Gelas Selection is mildly recommended.

Chateau de Laubade, 2000

Maker: Chateau de Laubade, Sorbets, Landes, France.

Grapes: Baco, Ugni Blanc.

Place of origin: Bas Armagnac

Vintage: 2000 (bottled at 20 y/o).

ABV: 52.4%

Thanks to Sku of Serious Brandy and Chateau de Laubade for the sample.

Appearance: Medium dark copper.

Nose: Aromatic. Alcohol, oak, maple syrup, oatmeal raisin cookies.

Palate: Full-bodied. Sweet and fruity, then big burn. Largely the same with water, but longer mid-palate.

Finish: Dried figs, horehound. burn, star anise. Less burn with water, naturally

Parting words: This brandy was one of the highlights of the Serious Brandy Facebook Group tasting earlier this year. You can view that event here.

This one didn’t stand out as particularly unique, but it tasted like a good, solid example of a well-made (pretty) old Armagnac. It’s rich and mature without being unbalanced or weird like some very old French brandies I’ve tried. Weird isn’t always bad, of course, but as with Scotch, too much oak and oxidation can ruin my drinking experience. There’s nothing not to like here.

I was able to find a price of about $130 for a 700 ml bottle of this online. That makes it outside of my usual price range, for sure, but you’d be hard pressed to find a 20 y/o cask strength single malt for that much these days. With that in mind, Chateau Laubade 2000 cask strength is recommended.

Fontan XO

Maker: Vignobles Fontan, Noulens, Gers, Gascony, France.

I had a better picture at one time, I promise.

Region: Bas Armagnac

Grape: Ugni Blanc (100%)

Age category: XO (6-10 y/o). Website lists age as 10 y/o.

ABV: 42%

Purchased for $43 at The Party Source

Appearance: Dark caramel.

Nose: Leather, anise, lavender, old oak, velvet, violets.

Palate: Full-bodied. Grape hard candy, leather, clove, burn.

Finish: Horehound, anise, eucalyptus, alcohol.

Parting words: I’m still very much a French brandy newbie, but I really enjoyed this Armagnac. It’s pretty complex with some very nice spice balanced with the perfect amount of oak and sweetness. Maybe a little too perfect. It seems too dark to be natural, even if it is an XO. If caramel was added, then I suspect sugar and other additives were used as well. In the end, though, this isn’t very expensive for an XO Armagnac and it tastes good. Although I prefer additive-free spirits, that’s what really matters. Fontan XO 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.