Armagnac Preview #1 — Pouchegu
We're big fans of the Tenareze Armagnacs—that third-on-the-list, lesser-known region of Armagnac that seems to get lumped under both Bas-Armagnac and Haut-Armagnac in terms of recognition. However, unlike Cognac with its Grand Champagne, Petit Champagne, Borderies, and Bois designations, I don't know if I'd go so far as to say that the soil plays as big of a role in determining flavor with the Tenareze brandies. When you taste a sampling of Fin Bois Cognacs versus Grand Champagne expressions, the difference is clear from the moment the brandy hits your lips—the elegance, and the fineness of the GC distillate proving that terroir does matter. With Armagnac the differences tend to be more about grape choice and stylistic differences—baco vs. folle blanche, or large barrique vs. smaller, charred barrels. It's not that terroir doesn't matter with Armagnac (because it certainly plays a role), it's that it isn't as obviously apparent.
The link that connects the three Tenareze producers we feature at K&L—Pellehaut, Ladaveze, and Pouchegu—is the richness in their spirits from the new wood maturation. All three producers have "modern" (a relative term in Armagnac) warehousing facilities and invest in their cooperage, which can stand in stark contract to more rustic producers like Baraillon from the Bas-Armagnac. Pierre Laporte, the proprietor of Domaine de Pouchegu, believes that new Limousin oak is essential to producing top quality Armagnac and strives to fill only freshly-constructed barrels. The Pouchegu Armagnacs are also bottled at higher alcohol percentages, which helps to balance out the richness and the power inflected into the spirit from the wood.
Like most Armagnac producers, Pierre does not own his own still, nor does he carry out his own distillation. It's important to remember that most Armagnac producers are farmers first, and rarely do they have time to get around to a second title or position. Pouchegu, like many producers, hires a traveling stillman to drive an alembique on a flatbed to the property when the fermentation is done, and distill everything for the year in one fell swoop. His property is planted solely with baco grapes. When we visited Pierre in 2013 he hinted that distillation might be done at Pouchegu for the foreseeable future—he feels he has enough back stock to retire at this point and doesn't have any kin looking to carry on the tradition. What's currently in the barrel at Pouchegu is likely all that will continue to exist at this point.
Pouchegu Armagnac has been winning awards and accolades in France for decades, and the brandies are considered some of the best in the region. Because of the small size and scale of the operation, it's taken us more than a year to get our batch of the 1986 vintage bottled in 750ml and ready for export to the U.S. (remember that we visited Pouchegu on last year's trip, not our most recent journey this past March). On June 30th, however, the wait will finally be over as one of the most-anticipated Armagnac releases of the year docks in Oakland and awaits customs inspection.
We're hoping it won't be more than a week or so after that before the bottles are the store and ready to go.