France Day 3: Jackpot

Once again it's late, there's a lot to talk about, and I need sleep in the most desperate way.  Work first, however.  We hit the jackpot today, finding a number of wonderful Armagnacs that we feel really speak to the character of the region and that should provide perfect crossovers for Bourbon fans.  The first stop of the day was to a small producer called Baraillon.  This father and daughter duo work on a real, bonafide farm in the middle of nowhere.  You would never think that brandy this good was hiding in a small rickhouse behind the main house, but nevertheless there is. 

Not only are there amazing barrels to be had, but incredible older vintages are resting quietly in glass demijohns as not to mature them any further. 

Mr. Baraillon and his daughter Laurens had a serious collection of samples waiting for us on there arrival.  There was little talk about flavor profiles or the nuance of their spirit.  They brought out a small plate of terrine on sliced white bread and just stood there watching us do our thing.  They are people of few words, prefering to let their product speak for itself.  They're humble farmers who understand their craft and know they do it well.

While we won't be bringing back a batch of the 1900, it was part of the tasting menu.  The Baraillon Armagnacs are rich with concentrated fruit on the entry.  We tried some 100% folle blanche specimen from 1988 and 1995 that were brimming with supple textures and spicy new oak, as well as some blends that were drier and hinting of dark fudge with moist earth.  The big winner was a 1985 combo of ugni blanc and baco that we'll probably end up bringing in.  I would compare it to the Glenrothes 1985 in that everyone should be able to enjoy its enticing nose of brown sugar and stewed apricots, as well as it's incredible finish of sticky toffee.  This should be a big hit.

Not too far away in the town of Hontanx is Frederic Blondeau's Domaine de Lassaubatju, a much more modern and streamlined operation than Baraillon.  We were a bit late, but Frederic brought us right into the chai for a look at his incredible stock of wonderful brandies.

Frederic had much to tell us. First off, Lassaubatju does not make any table wine to sell, so 100% of their wine is for distillation.  That means they're always using their top stuff for the Armagnac.  All of their barrels are coopered by a local producer who uses wood from the forest nearby.  That's the ultimate terroir!  We started with a 1989 blend of baco, folle blanche, and ugni blanc that took my breath away. I took one look at David OG and knew this was going to be a great tasting.

More than any producer we've visited so far, I'm positve that Frederic's Armagnac are going to please our whisky enthusiasts.  Four straight vintages (89,88,87, and 81) were reminiscient of Buffalo Trace Single Oak whiskies on the nose with pencil shavings and a nutty aromas.  Some were rich with baking spices, while others were drier with more pepper, but all had a gorgeous almond skin finish.  These are serious spirits and Bourbon fans are going to eat these up.  We might bring in all four barrels.

Our last stop in Armagnac before heading off to Cognac was Domaine d'Ognoas, a government-subsidized distillery that also functions as a farm and distilling school for those looking to enter the trade.  The property has been around since the 1200s and was once focused on teaching the fine art of cow breeding.  They began distilling Armagnac in 1809 and still use a very old still.

This ancient gem of an alambic uses a wood fire on the bottom left as a heat source and distills 400 gallons a day during its seasonal run.

The property has many rooms full of brandies from various cepages and vintages. We really enjoyed a 2000 from folle blanche and ugni blanc that will likely make the rotation of imports this summer.  Loaded with big charred oak flavors, marzipan and dusty cocoa flavors, this should be one of the best values we see on the whole trip.

I really liked their packaging as well.  I hope we can bring it in with this same label.  That's it for today.  I'm in Cognac.  We just had a big dinner at Dudognon.  I think we get to sleep in a bit tomorrow so I'm going to rest up.  That's it for today!

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll