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France - South-West: Cahors - Malbec, Armagnac, Gascony, Bergerac, Montravel, Madiran - Tannat, Irouléguy...

Latest south-west France:


I've updated my Cahors special supplement exploring one of south-west France's most exciting wine regions and 'home of Malbec,' as the PR slogan goes. This report has now expanded to nearly 20 pages of words, wines and photos including new profiles and my notes, views and reviews on/of these ten leading organic châteaux and wineries: Lacapelle-Cabanac, Chambert, Haut-Monplaisir, Le Clos d'un Jour, Cèdre, Mas del Périé, Cayrou, Tour de Miraval, Marjolière and Les Hauts d'Aglan.
This supplement costs just £3 (about $4.50/€4.20) and isn't viewable on the site - click on the 'buy now' button below to pay by card with Paypal, or use your own account although you don't need to set one up to do this. I'll email it to you once I receive payment confirmation. Click here for more about card payments, general 'terms & conditions' and 'your privacy'.
Photo: "150 to 200 year-old" cedar tree in front of curious round-tower outbuilding next to Château du Cayrou.


Château Lacapelle Cabanac Cahors (updated Jan 2013 and Nov 2015).
Malbec road-trip part 1 - Château Les Croisille - Château Combel La Serre - Château Tour de Miraval (Dec 2012).
Malbec road-trip part 2: Châteaux du Cayrou, Famaey, Métairie Grande du Théron, Latuc (Feb 2013).
Malbec road-trip part 3 - Châteaux Haute-Serre, La Caminade, Armandière and more... (Feb 2013).

'L'Eglise de Lacapelle-Cabanac.'

South-West winery snapshots archive

Château les Miaudoux - Bergerac
Gérard and Nathalie Cuisset have been busy growing grapes in Saussignac since 1986, and plums too: the vines organically since 2003 and plum trees since 2007. This pretty gently rolling spot is also a sub-appellation within "greater" Bergerac country for botrytis sweet wines, so Gérard and Nathalie make a full-monty range of colours and styles. I tasted these quite good examples at Millésime Bio organic wine show, Montpellier Jan 2010:
2008 Bergerac rosé (Cabernets Sauvignon / Franc & Merlot) - still nice and creamy strawberry-ish vs crisp and refreshing. 5.50€ 83-85
2009 Bergerac rouge (Merlot & Cabernet Franc 14%) - attractive and easy-going, juicy fruity style with soft tannins and a bit of weight too. 5.50€ 80-83
2004 L'Inspiration (Merlot & Cabernet Franc) - quite oaky but there's nice underlying herbal vs darker fruit; firm dry texture vs some spicy and lush fruit to finish. €13 85-87
2005 "oak-aged" Bergerac (Merlot & Cabernet Franc 14%) - dusting of vanilla on the nose, moving on to a grippy structured palate; turning savoury vs dark fruit, touch of power (14%) but quite subtle. €8 87
2005 Saussignac (Sémillon & Muscadelle) - apricots with spicy/mushroom botrytis notes and light oak; lush marmalade fruit vs light cedar texture, fair weight despite its 11.5% thanks to that glycerine/sugar (220g/l residual!); but there's nice balancing acidity on its still tight finish. Needs 2-3 years to open up. 50cl 15€ 88+

Domaine Cosse Maisonneuve - Cahors
Matthieu Cosse has 16 ha (40 acres) of nothing but glorious Malbec, all currently in the second year of conversion over to full-monty organic farming. So, vintage 2011 will be their first to proudly display that, erm, all-important (is it for you, just out of interest?) AB logo ("Agriculture biologique"). I couldn't find a website but the estate is located in the village of Lacapelle-Cabanac to the west of Cahors itself (a nice old town, by the way, worth the trip to this area, apart from all those masters of Malbec of course!). His email is matthieu.cosse@gmail.com if you wanted to visit (he'll be cursing me now for upping his spam count). I tasted these three star reds at Millésime Bio organic wine show, Montpellier Jan 2010:
2008 sans chichi Malbec vin de pays - lively, aromatic and quite intense inky/crunchy fruit; turning smokier and juicier on the palate with a touch of grip too, odd but nice. 85
2007 La Fage Cahors (100% Malbec 13.5%) - smoky cassis and aromatic red/black fruits; concentrated and lively with grippy/tart texture vs nice "sweet/savoury" fruit finish. 88+
2006 Les Laquets Cahors (100% Malbec) - a tad of spicy chocolate oak vs lusher and grippier mouthfeel; again has that dark vs crunchy fruit thing then big, firm and tight finish; needs 2+ years to mellow. 90+

Château Le Raz - Bergerac/Montravel
Curiously named Le Raz isn't too difficult to spot, with its typical handsome old chateau, round tower and pointy turret features; once you actually find the place, that is. Lost among rolling slopes and woodland to the north of Ste-Foy-la-Grande, the 'biggest town' around here, to find it you need to follow signs for Vignobles Barde from the village of Saint-Méard. The Barde family have been landowners in this western corner of the Bergerac region for a long time; the vineyards and winemaking are now looked after by Patrick, under the watchful eye of uncle Gil, while his cousin takes care of their cereal crops planted on flatter, more fertile, "cold" soils as Patrick put it. While a sub-appellation called Côtes de Bergerac had already been established - for red and sweet white wines mostly genuinely from hillside vineyards - growers in this particular area also lobbied for the creation of a sub-sub-appellation called Montravel, carved out of the landscape less than ten years ago (reds, dry and sweet whites). If you go any further west from here, you're in 'Côtes de Bordeaux' and "Right Bank" country: Saint-Emilion is about the same distance away as the town of Bergerac.
Anyway, that's enough geography and obscure AOC talk. Patrick is an enthusiastic talker too and, in true vigneron style, prefers telling you about what they do in the vineyard (he does spend a lot of time there) above what they do in the cellar. As for red varieties, Merlot takes the lead followed by the two Cabernets and Malbec. All the white styles are built around differing proportions of Sauvignon blanc, Sémillon and Muscadelle. I first tasted Le Raz wines over 15 years ago, when I was rather wowed as they were probably the best wines I'd come across from the region at that time; and finally had the opportunity to try them in situ in May 2009. Was I still as impressed? Read on... By the way, they export quite a few of their wines including to the UK, US and now the Far East (email them via their website for more info, see below). Cellar-door prices are between approx €5 - €12 from memory.

2008 Montravel sec (mostly Sauvignon & Muscadelle) - aromatic citrus vs yeast-lees richness and tangy notes; crisp dry mouthfeel v fatter yeasty texture, elegant acidity adds nice freshness with subtle intensity / length vs very lightly creamy too. 87
2008 Bergerac rosé (mostly Cabernet Sauvignon) - plenty of lively red fruits vs creamier notes and rounded mouthfeel, crisp and zingy vs a bit of weight too. 85
2006 Cuvée Grand Chêne Montravel sec (mostly Sauvignon & Sémillon) - quite oaky at the moment with rounded powerful palate; coconut and vanilla dominate but it has attractive creamy texture vs underlying acidity and citrus fruit, waxy yet spicy finish. 87+
2003 Cuvée Grand Chêne Côtes de Bergerac (mostly Merlot + Cabernet Franc) - seductive smoky nose with resiny liquorice fruit vs herbal edges; nice dry yet soft tannins, maturing leather tones with rich lively mouthfeel then lightly bitter twist. 87-89
2003 Montravel "Les Filles" (mostly Merlot + Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec) - similar character although less smoky and developed on the nose; enticing dark fruit and toasty spicy notes, background oak-grain texture layered with more liquorice fruit, maturing vs firm structured finish. 90+
2005 Montravel "Les Filles" - spicy aromas with a tad more coconut oak showing vs darker liquorice fruit and slight leafy / cedary notes; more structured and closed up, pretty firm, tight and powerful at the moment. Needs at least a couple of years to come out. 90-92
2004 Montravel "Les Filles" - smoky leather notes with ripe berry and cassis vs again those hallmark leaf / cedar tinges; firm vs lush mouthfeel, well balanced despite its 14% oomph, big coating of tannins enhanced by dark damson fruit with liquorice edges; lightly herby too and turning savoury, quite fine and still fairly youthful on the finish despite its maturing fruit. Smoother and rounder with dinner although still quite big vs tight dry finish. Probably better than some leading Bordeaux / St-Emilion 2004s. Next day - lightly toasty with leafy / cedar / spice notes vs liquorice, cassis and plum; lush yet dry texture, subtle balance and length. (Oddly enough, the musty-smelling cork had now infiltrated the wine a little although it wasn't actually "corked." I did notice a bit of a musty smell in their tasting cellar and dry goods' store...) 92+
2005 Cuvée Grand Chêne Montravel blanc sec - again the cork was a touch musty but not the wine?! Attractive maturing vegetal notes with lightly green and vibrant fruit vs a hint of coconut 'sweetness' (and also some background yeast-lees / gunpowder / sulphite notes but not badly so); quite 'sweet' textured and rounded buttery vs lees, spice and aniseed undertones; maturing and vegetal yet fresher greener side and bite too, nice weight and length. That struck match character goes away after it was open for a while, turning creamier and nuttier with airing vs still juicy fruity underneath. 87+
Vignobles Barde, 24610 Saint-Méard de Gurçon. Tel: 05 53 82 48 41, www.le-raz.com.

Domaine Ilarria - Irouléguy
You what, where? Indeed, I had to ask for a map too. Irouléguy is a place and an appellation in French Basque country, taking in some 15 villages and a mere 250 hectares (ha, about 600 acres) of vineyards perched up on the lower slopes of the Pyrenees (Atlantic-side) and a vine's throw from the border with Spain (the Navarra region isn't that far away). So, you can't get much more 'Southwest' than that. I came across these wines and owner Peio Espil at Millésime Bio wine fair in January 2009 (in Montpellier this year), meaning Ilarria is a certified organic estate: at 10 ha (out of the whole property of 30) he must be one of the 'big guys'! Like in almost-neighbour Madiran, Tannat (see link at bottom of page for "SW France vs Uruguay" tasting) takes the lead for red grapes supplemented by Bordeaux varieties and whites have more in common with Gascony (see tasting notes below). For US distribution, contact Charles Neal Selections in San Francisco; and Yapp Brothers in Wiltshire for UK stockists. Discovery of the show really:

2007 blanc (Petit Manseng, Petit Courbu 12.5%) - floral and citrus v oily mineral aromas, almost Riesling-like nose; steely and crisp mouth-feel v lightly creamy/leesy texture, 'chalky' too on its quite long finish; unusual. 87+
2007 rosé (Tannat, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon) - creamy and oily, quite rich strawberry fruit too; again finishing with crisp steely bite. 85+
2006 rouge (Tannat, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon) - smoky and rich with tangier blackcurrant edges; pretty concentrated and firmly structured but has nice rustic v vibrant fruit. 87-89
2004 cuvée Bixintxo (mostly Tannat + Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon) - wild and smoky v 'inky' lightly herbal notes; pretty dense and extracted yet there's attractive lush dark fruits in there too, with solid powerful and fresh finish. Wow, still youthful really. 90
Domaine Ilarria, 64220 Irouléguy. Tel: 05 59 37 23 38, ilarria@wanadoo.fr. 

Château La Colline - Bergerac
Founded by Charles Martin in 1994, who gained wide wine-growing and -making experience in the US, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa before setting up shop in Bergerac, southwest France. So he uses a lot of so-called 'New World' techniques, but not to the point where it shows excessively in the wines I tasted (below, in December 2008), although it's not really possible anymore (or wise) to categorically divide wines up into black and white 'Old' v 'New' camps. Sensible producers understand the merits and drawbacks of both total technology and gut-feel natural approaches. As Charles says on his website: "Here (the vineyard) is by far the best place to invest time soul and money." Obviously he likes to spend as much time as poss out in his 18 hectares of vines. La Colline wines appear to be widely distributed around the English-speaking world: Dublin and Enniskillen in Ireland; Cambridge Wine Merchants, Imbibros (Godalming) and Andrew Wilson wines (Tittensor) in England; Monmouth in Wales and Edinburgh, Scotland; in the USA: Patrick Baugier in New York, Charles Neal in San Francisco and somebody else in Maryland. More details from www.la-colline.com. Hopefully I'll make it there one day to see for myself, although the wines are certainly quite impressive (there are also a couple of top of the range cuvées):

2007 Pink Bergerac rosé (100% Cabernet Sauvignon) - deep-coloured with aromatic 'leafy' blackcurrant and redcurrant notes; pretty chunky mouth-feel (14% + a tad of tannin) turning creamy, fruity and oily v quite crisp to finish. Lost some of its freshness perhaps but this is an attractive foodie rosé. €6 85
2007 Sémillon (plus 14% Sauvignon Blanc, 13% alc.) - nice mix of aromatic zesty fruit v light creamy yeast-lees edges v more exotic white peach and greengage v waxy honeyed flavours and textures; rounded 'sweetness' v crisp and long finish. €6 87+
2006 Merlot (plus 10% Cabernet Sauvignon) - dark chocolate, damson and black cherry/currant with lightly 'earthy' / spicy undertones; quite serious and chunky palate with dry firm texture, subtle oak coating and some lush 'sweet' fruit. Still rather structured and powerful v bitter twist v good depth of fruit, should open up a bit over the next year. Good with civet de cerf (venison stew). €9 89-91
2003 Confit de la Colline, Côtes de Bergerac moelleux (Sémillon Muscadelle) - golden orangey brown colour, very rich nose showing exotic spicy botrytis notes, honey and dried apricots all wrapped up in background vanilla oak; luscious mouth-filling sweetness, again vanilla oak texture underneath (I wonder if not a bit too much new oak?), complex maturing sweet nutty fruit and a hint of acidity reining things in a little (this vintage probably lacks the ideal freshness needed for a wine like this?). Nice with chocy profiteroles, fruit desserts and why not mature or tangy cheeses too. €7 half-bottle. 89
Update: Charles sold La Colline in 2011.

Domaine du Tariquet - Gascony
The Grassa family, with almost century-old roots in Armagnac country (see below below for feature on Armagnac), has been making white wines for over 25 years. The decision was obviously a good one, as I've tried their dry and sweet whites on and off over the years (although not 25 I hasten to add!) and always found them very consistent and highly drinkable. The following 2007s, all sampled Oct-Nov 2008, are no exception; and nicely highlight that the Gascony climate and environment suit these varieties well. Tariquet is now one of the largest wine and Armagnac estates in this region, set in pretty countryside around Eauze (west of Auch, between Toulouse and Bordeaux) among undulating green hills and farmland. These wines are available from London based e-tailer advintage-wines.co.uk and other UK merchants such as the Wine Society, priced between approx. £5-£8 except their Vin de Liqueur (see below). More info including US and worldwide distributors from tariquet.com.

2007 Colombard Ugni Blanc Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne (10.5%) - difficult to dislike, slightly exotic fruit with pear drop aromatics; zingy, light and fresh. Keep it cold though. 80
2007 Chardonnay Famille Grassa, Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne (12.5%) - textbook mixture of zesty, juicy, aromatic flavours and texture with milky edges and sunny peachy fruit; greener crisp bite v very light toasty oak v ripe fruit. Nice. 87
2007 Sauvignon Blanc Famille Grassa, Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne (12%) - fragrant zesty citrus with light green pepper tones; attractively soft chalky and juicy mouth-feel, elegant and refreshing style. 85
Tariquet L'Apéritif Vin de Liqueur (17%) - mix of grape juice and unaged, white Armagnac spirit: French people would probably drink this as an apero but I prefer it as a dessert wine. Quite charismatic floral honeyed grapey grappa notes; refreshing v luscious, pretty sweet yet with nice cut from the alcohol, something nutty and straw-like too v grape juice sweetness. £12.99 85+
2007 Côté Chardonnay & Sauvignon Famille Grassa, Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne (11.5%) - towards Kiwi Sauvignon in style, although lighter with piercing citrus, green pepper and honey notes; rounded off-dry mouth-feel v crisp and lively, quite intense considering it's relatively light. 87-89
2006 Les 4 Réserve Famille Grassa, Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne (Gros Manseng Chardy Sauvignon Sémillon 12%) - light toasted coconut notes v aromatic & honeyed pink grapefruit; nice roundness and a touch of weight, lightly oaked texture v juicy fruit and fresh acidity. Good with e.g. prawn risotto, less attractive on its own. 87
2007 Les Dernières Grives, Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne (Petit Manseng 11%) - my initial thoughts were: this is a delicious late harvest sweet wine, exotic rich and honeyed yet with very refreshing acidity and lightness too; so why smother it in vanilla oak? However, for some reason I kept it in the fridge for weeks, and it actually got miles better, i.e. the oak lifted off but the rest of its charm stayed in place; probably indicating what might happen if you left it to age in bottle (I doubt much of it will last that long). So, hats off at the end of the day, although I still think they should reduce the wood so we can enjoy it young!
More Tariquet wines and Armagnac in feature below.

Domaine de Lauroux - Gascony
It's one of those 'realised a dream moving to France for good' stories. Even more so in British couple Nicolas and Karen Kitchener's case, as they took the unenviable plunge of buying a vineyard near Manciet, Gascony, in 2004. Romantic yet brave idea, as vineyards and wineries can eat money for some time before seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, if at all even. So I wish them well.
Enough of the grim business talk. Nick and Karen are making a range of Côtes de Gascogne wines - red, white, rosé and sweet - as well as distilling and ageing several styles of Armagnac (read on below for more info...), with stocks of old ones available too. They kindly sampled me with their rather delicious 1986 (vintage dated 'brandies' are more the norm here compared to Cognac - apologies for mentioning the C word): tasting note and info below. Domaine de Lauroux has a self-catering gîte, and Nick and Karen also do B&B: check out their website www.lauroux.com.

1986 Bas Armagnac (bottled in March 2007, 42%) - comes across as quite powerful and fiery at first, but its 'sweet' aged fruit and vanilla oak undertones quickly mellow it out in the mouth; delicious pruney caramel fruit lingers on its punchy lively finish. A small measure works nicely after an overindulgent meal, soothing the palate and stomach. But remember it has 42% alcohol! Cellar door prices: 50cl bottle €30.40, 70cl €42.50 or magnum (!) €91.20. UK retail price £39-£45. Tasted May 2007.

Armagnac tour - autumn 2005

Watching Marc Saint-Martin stoke up Marie-Jeanne’s fire with chunks of dry wood evokes romantic images of steam trains and times gone by. It’s actually the name of his “probably at least 100 year old” travelling still: each one has a story to tell and emphasises the artisan nature of Armagnac production even today. Once he’d finished his first batch over the weekend, he was off touring around with two mobile units distilling for other small producers before returning to his makeshift cellar (a huge dilapidated barn about to be restored) to carry on non-stop until Christmas.
The Armagnac region covers a pretty wide area of southwest France located to the west of Toulouse and about 150 km (100 miles) south of Bordeaux, although we’re only talking about 15,000 hectares (ha), or 37,000 acres of vineyards and 6 million bottles each year. The workings of the continuous ‘alambic’ still and the fruity spirit it generates create the main difference from Cognac, although some Armagnac is double distilled like the latter (brand leader Janneau for example). In simple terms, wine is fed into one part of the still, where it cools the alcohol vapour descending the coil. When hot, it crosses over to the column and cascades down over the plates – eight are ideal according to St-Martin to avoid over-purifying the spirit, others use from six to ten – bubbling together with the vapours rising from the fire.
This infuses them with wine aromas as they pass over to the coil, condense, cool and run out into cask. The raw spirit usually comes off below 60%; we tasted it at 65 (a definite wow yet fine, floral and fruity) so adjustments were needed. A copper still is considered “the best in terms of heat exchange, holding temperature and as a catalyst to remove the yeast-lees,” St-Martin explained. Château du Tariquet is also wood-fired “because it’s less even giving a greater spectrum of flavours,” Séverine Chomat said.
In contrast, Martine Lafitte at Domaine de Boingnères prefers the regularity of gas to heat her very handsome copper still. When you visit a few Armagnac producers, this is what stands out. Whereas arguably Cognac is rather industrial and standardised in taste, virtually everyone here offers an individual style; whether from a large international operation like Tariquet (Yves Grassa) – although the Armagnac side remains very craftsman-like – to a miniature traditional producer such as Lafitte with her precious barrels of old vintage Armagnacs. The personalities seem to come across in the product.
Tariquet’s estate at Eauze in the Bas-Armagnac zone covers nearly 1000 ha, which Grassa expanded from the 70s to develop their booming wine production. The contrast is startling between the damp cobwebbed cellar, full of dusty 400 litre barrels of maturing spirit, and the mega-tech winery run by machines. The varieties planted for distillation are Baco, Ugni Blanc and Folle Blanche; the latter (same as Picpoul in the Languedoc) makes up a tiny percentage overall but has become fashionable, as it’s the most characterful variety yet difficult to grow and prone to rot.
Séverine Chomat, who looks after Armagnac production, explained: “we make the VSOP and Hors d’Age (see below) blends once every year according to the market and stocks, and vintage in exceptional years.” The young spirit starts its ageing in their other ‘dry’ cellar (which promotes evaporation) in new barrels for up to three years, then is racked to gradually older casks and finally ends up in the old cellar, where high humidity slows evaporation. The fine-grained new barrels are slightly toasted, which suits the Tariquet lighter coloured house style. The art is understanding how time in new wood (and cask size/type/toast) influences flavour, to add a touch of sweetness and roundness without becoming oaky.
Several producers make single varietal Armagnacs such as Folle Blanche, which is an interesting approach (even if barrel ageing and strength are what gives most of its character). Tariquet sells a boxed range including 4, 8 and 12 year old. Many exceed the minimum legal maturation for their traditional blends: Tariquet’s XO is 12 years old and Hors d’Age 18. Chomat has developed a new range of three cask strength, single vat Armagnacs e.g. Fût no.6 XO at 54.9° (571 bottles), which could ride in on the success of prestige Malts.
Château de Bordeneuve – better known for their Baron de Sigognac brand – is one of few left who only produces Armagnac. It’s run by the Guasch family, father (who called himself “the nose”) and son Thomas, who handles packaging, exports etc. The Bordeneuve label is sourced exclusively from their 15 ha domaine and Sigognac from a wider area. As we tasted Guasch’s complex rich 1986 from cask, he described his philosophy: “Vintage is the priority but VSOP the workhorse. Armagnac is a bit of a discovery, none tastes like another... We're craftsmen, Cognac is more industrial!”
They also have around 100 mixed vintages – the oldest is 1888 – from different estates stored in large flasks (removed from cask to stop them drying out and evaporating to below 40°), which are bottled to order to satisfy the ‘birthday market’. Vintage will always be a lucrative niche, although these lovely Armagnacs still offer good value for money considering the quality. Promoting the idea of years, domaines and châteaux also makes sense to remind consumers this is a wine based product from an annual grape harvest, rather than more industrial process like most spirits. Other products include Blanche de Bordeneuve, an unaged grappa-like clear spirit that’s becoming popular; the same with lime essence; and la Grande Josiane, 3 year old Armagnac flavoured with bitter and sweet oranges.
Domaine de Boingnères, dating from 1807, represents the traditional school. Lafitte has decided to distil just Folle Blanche as sales are down: “it’s a shame as it’s a very good year.” Her vintage Armagnacs are naturally 47-49° undiluted; the 1990 and 80 from cask both show promise with toasty coffee and prune notes. Martine believes “about 30 years is perfect; they can and do keep longer but if there’s too much rancio, they lose character and freshness… People say Armagnac is expensive but, based on a yearly harvest, all this costs money. Whisky is expensive.”
Domaine d’Espérance, bought by Jean-Louis and Claire de Montesquiou in 1990 – the date of their oldest Armagnac – is a relative newcomer based on a former estate. “We restructured the vineyard (34 ha) to make vin de pays (80% of production), because that brings in cash,” Sylvie Barrère told us. “Now we’re focusing on Armagnac: you need to invest in time.” They’ve just completed a spacious warehouse using as organic design and materials as possible. The current range comprises two vintages, 5 & 10 YO and white Armagnac (not aged in oak), which Barrère hopes “is perhaps the way forward with young people, as a mixer in clubs.”
Château de Laubade is the biggest Armagnac-only producer, with 105 ha, according to export director Stephen Lemaitre; they also own several properties in Bordeaux, Madiran and now Uruguay. Laubade has 80% of vintage Armagnac business worldwide, which is “70% of our sales and exports are growing,” Lemaitre enthused. Their labels are classic yet simple, and the date on vintage styles (also packaged in smart boxes) features on a silver background right on the front. The trade body BNIA (www.armagnac.fr) – one of those very French organisations whose title carries the splendid ‘Interprofessionnel’ word – has held innovative tastings in New York and London, including an Armagnac and chocolate masterclass and cigar matching. Just in case you were short of ideas on how to appreciate it…
A version of this article was first published in Off Licence News on 9th December 2005.

A few recommended Armagnacs and wines

Château du Tariquet
2004 Côté Tariquet Chardonnay / Sauvignon Blanc - delicious green fruit aromas lead to richer more exotic palate, quite weighty although only 11% alcohol, crisp Sauvignon acidity and character on the finish.
2004 Les Premières Grives, Domaine du Tariquet (Gros Manseng) - exotic honey and apricot nose, nice concentration and style with lighter crisper finish v fair sweetness.
Tariquet Floc de Gascogne (Gros Manseng Semillon and Ugni Blanc juice + young Armagnac made from Folle Blanche 17%) - unusual mix of aromatic grapefruit and honey leads to more spirited, sweet finish.
Folle Blanche 4 Ans / 4 Year Old (45%) - quite light and fiery with vanilla notes, fruity mid palate but a bit harsh on the finish.
Folle Blanche 12 Ans / 12 Year Old (45%) - not that much difference in colour, more mellow and fruity caramel notes, fuller palate with dried fruits and chocolate; less hot, finer length.
Folle Blanche 8 Ans / 8 Year Old (45%) - erm, somewhere between the two above! Nice balance of aged character v price.
XO (Baco Ugni Blanc 12 years ageing) - darker colour with more caramel tones, quite rounded fruit and light vanilla, good bite but less aggressive than the younger ones, nice 'sweet' coating to finish.
Fût no.6 XO, Bas-Armagnac (Baco Ugni Blanc 54.9° cask strength) - 571 bottles made: quite toasty coffee nose yet floral too, distinctive fruit v strong alcohol, a bit stinging yet it adds cleansing length along with nice fruit too.
Latest Tariquet in "Snapshots" above.

Château de Bordeneuve - Baron de Sigognac
Baron de Sigognac 10 Ans d'Age (40%) - well made blend balancing light fruitiness, rounded aged character and not too much of a kick to finish.
1986 Château de Bordeneuve (from cask) - complex and rich with nutty caramel tones, strong alcohol yet still elegant with lingering developing fruit.
Blanche de Bordeneuve (45%) - fruity grappa like aromas, surprisingly smooth and attractive given its youthful fieriness.
Same with lime - very aromatic and zesty, a touch of sweetness v alcohol power, actually quite fine.
La Grande Josiane - appealing mix of lively orange v sweetness v Armagnac backbone, less sweet than Grand Marnier (170 grams residual sugar).

Château de Malliac
1969 Jean de Malliac, Bas-Armagnac (Piquepoult = Folle Blanche 47.5%, bottled in 1990) - almost Oloroso like oxidised walnut and caramel fruit, powerful yet complex with sweeter finer finish.

Domaine de Boingnères
1990 Folle Blanche (from cask) - browny orange colour with rich plum and chocolate fruit, dried fruits and orange peel notes too; still quite fiery to start but shows nice developing coffee flavours on the finish adding sweetness, more balanced and elegant in the end.
5 Year Old (from cask) - more vanilla and aromatic, lighter and livelier; almost Bourbon like with fruity finish to offset the alcohol.
1980 Folle Blanche (from cask) - appears less dark in colour than the 90, lovely prune notes with quite exotic roasted coffee finish.
1993 Folle Blanche, Bas-Armagnac (49%) - delicious plummy fruit and roasted coffee flavours balanced by intricate maturing smoky notes, has quite a purging kick yet it's rounded and 'sweet' too.

Domaine d’Espérance
2004 Cuvée d'Or, Vin de Pays des Landes (Gros Manseng Sauvignon Blanc Colombard) - attractive medium dry style with honeyed floral grapey fruit balanced by mineral tones and crisper finish.
5 Year Old (Baco Folle Blanche) - good colour, nice fruity caramel nose with light spicy vanilla notes; a bit fiery and short but attractive enough for a young style, could be a good mixer.
1993 (Folle Blanche) - much more mellow and complex, still has quite serious bite but also richer coffee and plum fruit, attractive coating and length. €32
10 Year Old - enticing smoky nose leads to sweet fruit on the palate, quite hot yet elegant and long.

Château de Laubade
XO (12+ years ageing) - powerful nose yet displays subtle toasty creamy dried fruits as well; appealing fruity finish, strong at first but smoothes out nicely. £20-25
1976 - more exotic aromas and a touch oakier, attractive sweetish finish, powerful yet with caramel & nut coating. £35-40

Armagnac age and quality terms:
VSOP or Réserve – at least 5 years old (meaning the minimum age of the youngest Armagnac in the blend).
XO – at least 6 years old.
Hors d’Age – at least 10 years old (literally 'beyond age or ageless').
Mention of age – e.g. 5, 10 or 20 Year Old.
Vintage – only from the stated single harvest e.g. 1986, 1990, 1789!

And from further south-west and further into the past:
Tannat: Madiran v Uruguay (tasting feature May 2005).

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