Armagnac has been distilled at Domaine de Laballe since Jean-Dominique Laudet returned from the Caribbean to his native Gascony and purchased the estate in Parleboscq. It was Noel Laudet, however, who modernized the operation in the 1970s when he left his position as director at famed Bordeaux producer Chateau Beycheville in St. Julien and returned home to expand his family's estate into wine production, as well as Armagnac. After Noel, however, production at Laballe stopped until the 8th generation came back to take the reigns. Today, Cyril Laudet and his wife Julie have restarted operations at the Domaine and have recommitted to the tradition of their ancestors.
Julie was there to meet us when we visited the property this past March and taste us on a number of selections. Because of the stoppage between generations everything available at Laballe is either quite old or quite young—pre-1993 or post 2001. As we were searching for more value-priced expressions, we were excited to taste the simple VS and VSOP selections. We were instantly impressed by their precocious drinkability; they had spice and richness without too much oak-dominated tannin. Laballe has been using the same wood-fired still since 1923. The older expressions are mostly baco, while the newer releases focus mainly on ugni blanc.
We were very happy with the basic Laballe VS expression—to the point that we loaded up substantially. We're counting on general drinkability and a shockingly-low price point (think $32-ish) to woo our discerning drinkers into Armagnac happiness. We also selected one vintage from the old guard, and one from the new blood: a very Bourbon-esque 1992 selection that shows rich wood and notes of barrel spice; and a young, vibrant 2004 expression with lovely fruit and toasty oak.