French Second Wave

Hang on to your hats, people! This second wave is much larger than the first, and it's the one that might knock you off your feet and drag you deeper down into the dangerous sea of brandy. We sold through a lot of the initial stock after yesterday's email, but there's more coming today, Tuesday, and to Los Angeles on Friday, so don't worry!

Domaine de Baraillon

Unlike distilleries that operate day in and day out, perfecting the distillation process in order to improve consistency, the Claveries are not worried about consistency. They only distill one week out of the year, so each batch reflects not only the vintage of the grapes, but the conditions on the farm at that particularly time. You have to remember—the Claveries have been living in the same house since 1749. They use fruit from around their property, but also from Mr. Claverie's sister in Le Freche. They do not use new oak, but rather 5,000 liter, used-vats that house the brandy until other barrel space opens up, or until they can afford to buy more wood. It's not about consistency at Baraillon, but rather what's possible at that particular moment in time (which each vintage represents). Sometimes the barrels from a vintage are blended together, sometimes they're not. It all depends on what's needed.

And that's why we feel the Baraillon Armagnacs are the most "authentic" spirit we carry; they reflect the everyday issues of everyday people attempting to make something great with their own two-hands.

Domaine de Baraillon 20 Year Old K&L Exclusive Armagnac $69.99 -  If you like big, bold, chewy, meaty, mouth-filling spirits, then this 20 year old Baraillon is for you. It's a big, teeth-gripping Armagnac that packs caramel and fruit into one monstrous mouthfeel.

1995 Domaine de Baraillon 19 Year Old K&L Exclusive Folle Blanche Armagnac $89.99 - The 1995 is classic Baraillon -- loaded with dark, brooding fruit, heavy oak and caramel, but with the bright, flurry of spice that only Folle Blanche Armagnac can offer. It's both rustic and lively.

1988 Domaine de Baraillon 26 Year Old K&L Exclusive Folle Blanche Armagnac $109.99 - While older than the 1995 Folle Blanche expression we also have, the 1988 vintage is much less rich and more fruit-driven than its sister cask. The vanilla is lighter, the wood less dominant, allowing the perfumy nature of the varietal fruit to shine.

1974 Domaine de Baraillon 40 Year Old K&L Exclusive Bas-Armagnac $139.99 - There are big hopes when someone plunks down their hard-earned money on a 40 year bottle of Scotch because you're probably talking at least $500. For $140, you're getting the deal of a lifetime from Baraillon -- 100% baco-distilled goodness that has seen four decades of oak maturation. There are deep, concentrated flavors of caramel, rancio galore, and tannic wood spices that are completely balanced by the sweetness of the fruit. The fact that we're the only people importing this stuff is shocking (but of course we're not going to complain!)

Chateau de Laballe

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. (NOTE: Charles and I were laughing yesterday about another negociant label floating around called "Laballe" that is all purchased, reduced, watered-down leftovers, and not Laballe Armagnac directly from the Domaine. Don't be fooled if you see that elsewhere).

Chateau de Laballe K&L Exclusive VS Armagnac $34.99 - The VS is going to be a fan favorite -- it has all the varietal flavor of the fruit, but enough richness to round out the palate and give the wooded spirits fans their dessert. It's spicy and dry on the finish, making it perfect for rocks drinks or cocktails.

2004 Chateau de Laballe 10 Year Old K&L Exclusive Vintage Cask Strength Armagnac $99.99 - This ten year old 2004 vintage Armagnac is for Bourbon drinkers who want to try something new. All the wood spices, pepper, oak, and heat are packed into this cask strength number. Big, bold flavor (52.4%) that finishes with an herbaceous kick. It's quite stunning and will definitely be one of the stars from this year's crop.

1992 Chateau de Laballe 22 Year Old K&L Exclusive Vintage Armagnac $119.99 - Those who loved the 1996 Pellehaut or Darroze 20 year expressions from past years are going to go bonkers for this. It's a huge, rich, dark chocolate and sweet fruited entry that blasts you with baking spices and sweetness right off the bat. The richness is tempered by oak and wood along the mid-palate and the brandy finishes with a dry, savory note. This is the kind of Armagnac that changes both hearts and minds.

Claude Thorin Cognac

We are going to sell so much Claude Thorin Cognac at K&L this year that I expect it to be a household name with our customer base by 2015. Brandy drinkers searching for Grand Champagne quality at reasonable prices are going to be thrilled—there's nothing this good for this cheap on the American market and we're bringing in a whole lotta Thorin for that very reason.

All of the new-make from Claude Thorin goes into new Limousin oak for the first twelve months before being transferred into used russet barrels. From what I tasted, there is very little coloring or boise being added to the final blends as the clean, fruit-driven flavor of Grand Champagne is front and center. There's nothing transcendent going on with each sip, just good, honest brandy from a French farmer. It's when you see the price tags that your eyes jump out of your head.

Claude Thorin K&L Exclusive VS Cognac $29.99 - The VS is fresh, clean, and fruit-driven, mimicing the best $40 options of Grand Champagne but for $10 less. There's nothing transcendent going on with each sip, just good, honest brandy from a French farmer. It's when you see the price tags that your eyes jump out of your head. Grower-producer Cognac for $29.99 -- it's about time that our French brandy program caught up to our Champagne department. With that analogy in mind, Claude Thorin is the Frank Bonville of Cognac.

Claude Thorin K&L Exclusive VSOP Cognac $44.99 - The VSOP is older, and therefore richer than the standard VS with plenty of soft caramel, rich vanilla, and pure Grand Champagne fruit behind it. The result is stunning and we'd expect something of this quality to sell for $60 or even $70. At $44.99, it's almost too good to be true.

2002 Claude Thorin K&L Exclusive Vintage Cognac $59.99 - There's very little vintage Cognac being sold on the market because of the strict laws surrounding the process and the fact that most Cognacs are carefully-crafted blends. To taste a Grand Champagne brandy from one single year is quite rare, and therefore a bit more pricey. Nevertheless, we thought the result was definitely worth the extra few bucks. For those whisky fans who were fortunate enough to taste Bruichladdich's Bere Barley experiment, this Cognac is just as wonderfully pure. Gone are the creamy, undulating waves of richness and in their place are fresh and snappy fruit flavors contained inside of a leaner, brighter mouthfeel. It's quite surprising and it's a peek at what's possible for French Cognac when you dare to step outside of tradition and into something more rudimentary and interesting.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll