A Trip to Armagnac Part I: Domaine Boingneres

B Madame LAFITTEDomaine Boingneres enjoys more commercial success than many other properties in Armagnac and indeed, Madame Lafitte’s expressions of Folle Blanch and the elusive Baco may be found in many a Michelin star restaurant and fancy hotel. With an established following of world class sommeliers such as Gerrard Basset (World best Sommelier 2010) and Enrico Bernardo (World best Sommelier 2004), this has by no means detracted from the truly artisanal nature and small scale production that actually takes place here. Alas, with no heirs to the Boingneres throne, the future of the domaine is unknown, so now was the perfect time to visit the cellars located in one of the best areas in Bas Armagnac: La Freche.

Originally founded in 1807 by Jean Boingneres, for 6 generations Domaine Boingneres has maintained the difficult path of producing some of the most sought after Armagnac. It was in the 1950s that Raymond Baudoin – the founder of Vin de France magazine and the Academie du Vin de France – tasted the spirit. He immediately arranged for the Armagnac’s to be sent to the finest restaurants in Paris, which is somewhat hard to believe considering even up until the 1970s an ambulant distiller or mobile still was used. It was only later under the reins of Leon Laffite – husband of Marguerite Boingneres – that they took the pioneering step of installing a custom made still. While I was there, I was able to see some of the many components that were purpose built to give the greatest extraction of flavour from the wines. This is the cleanest still in all of France – “cleaned by men” according to Madame Lafitte.  Only 7-40 barrels of spirit are distilled each year depending on the quality of the vintage. While rules dictate that distillation has to be completed by March 31st following the year of harvest, Madame Lafitte’s is completed by November.

bequipmentHalf of the new spirit is put into new charred casks of local oak – up to 15 casks per year – and then aged for two years before being transferred to older wood to become the vintage Armagnac. The other half goes into two year old barrels where it remains until required for blending. According to Martine Lafite, Leon’s daughter, who today carries on the legacy and looks after the 21 ha estate, 4 decades is long enough for Armagnac to remain in cask. After which, they’re transferred to glass demi-johns; however, most will be bottled to order, straight from cask.

B CellarOver 14 ha are made up of Folle Blanche, with its elegant and strong bouquet and together with Colombard and Ugni Blanc they make up the Cepages Nobles, which some of the greatest expressions are labeled under. I was lucky enough to taste some very rare Armagnac made exclusively from the Baco grape, some of which will be bottled for the first time for FINE+RARE. Akin to Pinot Noir, this is an incredibly hard grape to master, but in the skilled hands of this domaine it has produced some of my favourite examples of Armagnac. I urge you to try the 1986, 1985 and 1984 Baco, you won’t be disappointed.

All 4 varieties come together in a final symphony that is the Quatre Cepage. A rare 1968 would have to be the pick of my trip, unfortunately now sold out, testament to how quickly these older relics will disappear.

If anything, you have to give their Eau de Vie – a spirit with no cask ageing – a try. It is luxurious, creamy and fiery all at the same time! True to form, Domaine Boingneres Armagnac’s are big, bold and complex. Bottled at cask strength, they’re best enjoyed neat and are truly stunning examples of this fine spirit.

Garrick Whittaker
Whisky & Spirits Buyer

B DEmi JOhn