The Brandy Report (5/12): Armagnac - Springing the lid of innovation

02 March, 2015

Despite being the longest established house in the Bas-Armagnac region, Dartigalongue had abandoned its own distilling by the early 2000s and now focuses on ageing spirit from smaller producers.

It has taken this into a series of wood and cooperage trials, looking at the effect on the maturing spirit of varying oaks (contrasting Limousin, Vosges, Gascony and Allier woods) – alternative cask treatments at the cooperage and the impact of differing cellar conditions. A carefully controlled and closely monitored experiment is underway involving some 700 different casks – a very different approach to the rigid adherence to tradition which is often encountered elsewhere.

Similarly, at the Laubade, some 15ha of oak wood has been planted and experiments are being done with its own air-dried staves to determine optimum cask quality. Also at Laubade, recognising what Denis Lesgourgues describes as “our responsibility to preserve our regional grapes heritage”, 19th century varieties such as Petit Jurançon and Clairette de Gascogne have been planted. Despite their “erratic, low and inconsistent yields” these are now being distilled as a heritage varietal.

At Pernod Ricard’s Comte de Lauvia further “experimental reflections” on the direct or indirect components of Armagnac are underway, including casks of the local ‘black oak’ made from 150-year-old trees identified as the finest and rarest of their variety. 

After 30 months seasoning, the barrels are finally built and given a special toasting process unique to Comte de Lauvia defined by the barrel maker and Cellar Master Eric Durand.

Finally packaging. Though the traditional green basquaise bottle is still widely used, more innovative and contemporary packaging is also being adopted to recognise the demands of the luxury market and to give armagnac a more cutting-edge look.

Introductions

Among other producers, Castarède has introduced a new decanter for its 50-year-old expression that references the traditional flask but with a modern twist; Gelas has moved completely away from the older style for its Single Cask range; Dartingalongue has introduced a number of striking decanters for its premium and super-premium expressions and, to assist sampling a range of styles, both Garreau and Château de Pellehaut offer trial packs with multiple 6cl tubes to sample.

Despite the unchanging landscape then, the brandscape of armagnac is changing as producers adapt to new markets with unexpected flexibility and vitality. Combining the category’s tradition, provenance, hand-crafted artisanal skills and small-batch production with a more upbeat approach to marketing we could be on the brink of the breakthrough this little-known spirit has long deserved.

The Brandy Report comes in 12 parts. Folllow the links here Category introduction by Hamish Smith (1/12), Brandy in the Philipinnes by Hamish Smith (2/12)Cognac by Nicholas Faith (3/12)Premium brandies by Richard Woodard (4/12)Armagnac by Ian Buxton (5/12)French brandy by Hamish Smith (6/12)Spanish brandies by Dominic Roskrow (7/8)





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