Despite Mother Nature providing virtually everything necessary for producing a singular and remarkable spirit, market forces seem intent on keeping Armagnac off the centre stage: a spot it rightly deserves! A sheltered existence geographically coupled with a lack of business savvy has, for many centuries, meant it never quite achieved the same global acclaim that Cognac enjoys today. Much is being done to try and rectify this by the trade, myself included; but it seems they still tend to stay confined to a sommelier’s recommendation. Anyone who has tasted or in fact bought a bottle of Armagnac will, I’m sure, attest to the quality and great value they offer. So why don’t we see more of them?
Unfortunately, today a new problem exists for many of the small producers in Armagnac. Much of the new generation in Gascony, not content with the quiet life, leave for the bright lights of cities such as Paris, selling their inheritances to forge new paths. As the previous generation pass away, they leave what is left of their pensions behind – casks of Armagnac, many of which will now disappear into the blends of modern day cooperatives.
Domaine Notre Dame de Bouit
This would have been the fate for Domaine Notre Dame de Bouit, a 9 hectare estate in the heart of Bas Armagnac, planted with Folle Blanche and Bacco. After the death of the owner and sale of the vineyards in 1978, distillation ceased a few years later in 1982. Sadly the vineyards no longer remain and the proprietress, Mrs Journet, sold what she needed to enjoy retirement and as a result only minuscule amounts of the Notre Dame spirit remain.
After the recent passing of Mrs Journet, a small amount was rescued from barrel by the team at Baron de Lustrac. A boutique purveyor, blender and bottler of rare vintage Armagnac’s, they are all that remains of the many small estates that would otherwise fade from existence. Their sole mission has been to search for ‘lost’ barrels of Armagnac and bring them to life. I was invited to Armagnac by the owner Ena, to experience first-hand some of their rare collection.
A grand and educative tasting through a small flight of vintages really showed off the quality achieved here.
It is almost unique in how dry the cellars were, enabling them to keep Armagnac in barrels for an extended period of maturation not seen anywhere else. In the wine world, the equivalent would be the extended barrel aging process Manfred Krankl from Sine Qua Non uses, which is a virtual replica of the process that Marcel Guigal uses to make his La La’s in Rhone. In fact, I know that the 1930 and 1936 vintage barrels were only transferred across to glass demijohns in 2009 and the results are spectacular.
The dry cellar conditions mean that while the actual volume in the barrel will drop more readily, the alcohol content remains unusually high. The reverse would hold true for a damp or humid cellar. The significance here is that the alcohol percentage has never dipped below 40% (the legal requirement for Armagnac) and the reason why most other Domaines would have had to remove their spirit from barrel before now.
Of the vintages tasted, 1928, 1930, 1936 and 1968 merited 5 Stars in my opinion.
“This is ridiculously great value. The youngest in the flight, offered at cask strength as they all are. This was the most spirited, with a beautiful bite. Signature nose of cigar box, burnt sugar with a hint of mint freshness. Perfectly balanced, awash with salted caramel, fig, spice, leather and oils. Beautiful. 6 bottles remain.” £140 in bond.
95 Points, Garrick Whittaker
“Transferred to demi john in 2009. Almost liqueur like in appearance, Chai Latte on the nose changes to more mocha notes after some time in the glass. Sauterne like in flavour and texture, but with slightly drier notes, more so than the younger 1965. Orange and Jaffa cakes in abundance. 15 bottles remain.” £455 in bond.
94 Points, Garrick Whittaker
“Transferred to demi john in 2009. Nose of new leather and freshly cut grass. Oak adds a punchy bourbon quality, but this is mingled with notes of truffle and cocoa. A spicy fruitiness cranks up the weight. 18 bottles remain.” £565 in bond.
93 Points, Garrick Whittaker
“Signature tobacco on the nose once again, new and old. Tea leaves and layers of floral perfume. Sweet and spicy on the palate, maple syrup and very generous mouth feel. Returning to the glass after about 20 minutes, new fruit flavours in abundance, apples and pears. Shows signs of long and precise aging. 12 bottles remain.” £591 in bond.
94 Points, Garrick Whittaker
Whisky & Spirits Buyer