Our Best Armagnac Deal of the Year

Almost exactly a year ago, I travelled to Château de Briat with my friend Charles Neal to put together a few K&L exclusive Armagnac selections. Unlike some of the other producers we've introduced to the American market recently, Briat has long been available in Charles's main portfolio as a standard NAS expression. We originally started our direct import brandy program by operating outside of his main selections, finding new names like Baraillon, Ladeveze, and Maouhum, not wanting to cannibalize the standard business. After a while, however, it became difficult to avoid digging into some of these storied cellars, especially those with a history as rich as Château de Briat. I've long compared Armagnac to Bourbon, because of its woodier flavor profile and backwoods origins, but here there's an even deeper connection. Regardless of whether you believe Bourbon got its name from Bourbon Street in New Orleans, where many a glass of American whiskey has been consumed over the years, or from Bourbon Country in Kentucky, there’s no denying that the county, the street, and the beverage were all named after the French royal family—the House of Bourbon—which began its reign on the French throne with King Henry IV in 1589. Henry IV was born in the town of Pau, formerly part of the kingdom of Navarre and currently part of southwest France near Armagnac country. His mother Jeanne d’Albret, Queen of Navarre, commissioned a hunting lodge in 1540 to be built in nearby Mauvezin on behalf of her future child. The property was called Château de Briat and Henry inherited the manor when he took the throne of Navarre in 1572. 

Twelve years later Henry of Navarre found himself in a bit of a pickle. You see, the son of Jeanne d’Aubret was baptized as a Catholic, but raised as a Huguenot by his mother. Henry III was a Catholic monarch sitting on the French throne, but upon the death of his brother, the Duke of Anjou, the next in line was the now-Protestant Henry of Navarre. This little quandary caused all kinds of crowning chaos culminating in numerous wars of religion, perhaps the most significant of which was the Battle of Coutras in 1587. Henry emerged victorious from the fight thanks to the help of a man named Arnaud de Mâtines, a fellow officer in the Huguenot army who saved Henry’s life during the clash. Henry of Navarre would succeed to the French throne as Henry IV two years later upon the death of Henry III. As a thank you gift for his efforts, Henry IV gifted the hunting lodge of Château de Briat to Arnaud de Mâtines. Almost three hundred years later, it was purchased by another famous name in the booze business: the Baron de Pichon-Longueville. Known for his world-famous wine château in the Pauillac region of Bordeaux, Baron Raoul added the Armagnac-producing estate to his portfolio, eventually passing the property down to his daughter Jeanne, who would pass it down to her children thereafter.

Today Château de Briat is operated by Jeanne’s great-grandson, Stêphane de Luze, who represents the fifth generation of the family to make Armagnac at the former hunting lodge of Henry IV. While he may look aristocratic with his tall, thin frame, his flowing hair, and his perfectly-tailored country couture, Stéphane is truly a dude's dude. We had an absolute blast drinking Armagnac in his historic estate, cracking jokes as boys do, wandering the property as we talked history and drank brandy. I ended up buying two single vintage selections that day, one distilled in 2001 and another distilled in 2005, and we've been selling both expressions for months now. It wasn't until last month, however, when I got the opportunity to do an even deeper deal: one that would allow us to sell a 1995 Briat 20 year old Armagnac for the exact same price. I won't go into the details of how it happened or why. I'd rather just tell you that it's here! An exquisite, layered, rich, dark, and mouthcoating brandy from a storied producer for about half of what it should cost. Since this edition is not exclusive to K&L, you can do some comparisons online where it sells for between $95 and $115. But our price to you will be....

1995 Château de Briat 20 Year Old Vintage Armagnac $69.99 - It only takes one small whiff of this luscious twenty year old Armagnac to get your taste buds salivating. The nose is brimming with caramel, toasted oak, sweet fruit, and a bit of earth. The sweetness is what first lights up the palate, as this 1995 is not nearly as dry or tannic as some of the most rustic editions we've carried over the years. Much like a Bourbon, the oak provides ample vanilla and richness right off the bat, followed by more nunaced notes of brandied fruit and wood. What stands out on the finish is how long that pronounced sweetness continues to persist. Whereas many of our best Armagnacs dry out towards the back, the 1995 Briat somehow prolongs that intense richness into a lasting presence of baking spices, oak, and soft caramel. For $100, we'd be touting this as a great deal. But for $69.99, it's a no-brainer. Buy two of these if you can.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll