France 2013 - Day 3 - Real People, Real Booze

I love single malt whisky. I love Cognac, too. However, to me there's nothing more real and authentic in the booze world than Armagnac. There are no corporations, no giant distilleries, no grains coming in from Poland, no tricks, and no brand managers when we make our trip through the region. With Gascony's rugged spirit there is only the various Chateaux and country homes with local farmers occupying them. These people own vineyards. They make wine. They distill some of it. They have pigs and chickens. It's a way of life for them and it's not about designing the next big money-maker. When we pulled into a small domaine called Louis Dupuy we were met by a guy named Peris – a man whose house is like something from an old country fairytale. Except this isn't a Disneyland tasting bar. This is the real deal.

Located on the border of Bas Armagnac, Dupuy hasn't distilled for a few years and has a very small selection of casks, but what Peris has is terrific. With only a few hectares of Baco, his vintage selections were quite distinct and easy-to-like. A 1987 cask we tasted was quite delicate and refined with a fresh fruit character that was balanced and in tune with the barrel spice. We liked it tremendously. A 1990 cask exhibited high-toned baking spices like cloves and cinnamon with lots of pizzazz. Because Peris doesn't make wine in addition to his brandy he has more land to plant Baco, which is really only good for distillation. When wine became a lucrative side project in the early 1980s many of the local farmers ripped out their Baco and started planting Ugni Blanc and Colombard instead, however, the old Baco spirits are much more interesting in our opinion. Peris believes that Armagnac offers a better and more individualistic expression of land, which to him makes it more interesting than Cognac. But of course he would say that! :)

Our next stop after Dupuy was another new face for K&L: an estate called Domaine du Miquer that is run by Jacques Lasserre. Jacques is a veteran of the business and for years was the distiller for many other producers in the region (remember than many Armagnac producers have no stills and hire other people to distill their wine). He knows the production from the vineyard to the bottle and you can tell it right away when you taste his brandy. They are polished and exquisite in quality. His crazy old still was made in 1900 and continues to create one masterpiece after another.

Both David and I expect Miquer to be a big player for K&L in 2013. There were a number of selections that interested us. Even though Jacques only has six hectares of fruit, with which only four are dedicated to distillation, he had tons of great booze. A 1986 Folle Blanche sample was incredibly refined and polished. We were hooked right off the bat. A 1993 showed beautiful aromas and wonderful hints of Blackjack and Big Red gum on the finish. A 1982 Baco was also stunning.

If all goes well we might take as many as five expressions from Miquer because they're so impressive. We can't really ask for better brandy to sell at K&L. Jacques was also a very nice guy who is the kind of person we want to be doing more business with.

After Miquer came last year's big K&L Armagnac hit: Baraillon! The quaint country estate became the star of the K&L brandy department with a 1985 that simply wowed everyone who tried it (we still have plenty of it by the way). We pulled up to a big smile from the Claverie family.

Based on the success of the 1985 vintage we wanted to do a number of additional expressions for the store. The crazy thing about Baraillon is that they have some old vintages. I mean really old.

Have you ever had the '93 Baraillon before?

Which one? The 18 or 19? (queue aristocratic male laughter)

Last on the list was Chateau Briat - an estate that has been run by Stefan Deluze since his family passed away. The estate was originally owned King Henry VI before it was taken over by the Baron Pichon-Longueville of Bordeaux wine fame, hence the mention to the property on the Armagnac label.

Stefan is a great guy who has kind of fallen into the business, but is loving every minute of it. We tasted some outstanding casks before calling it a night.

I'm out of time as we're due at dinner!

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll