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23 December 2019

Posh Armagnac, Calvados, Cognac, Marc de Champagne, Marc de Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Armagnac - Château de Laubade

My modest holiday home. Not.

Château de Laubade is the largest estate in the Armagnac region (lying in deepest south-west France, south of Bordeaux and Bergerac, the main town is Auch) with 105 hectares of vineyards, which they claim allows them not to have to buy in any grapes or spirits from outside of the property. Laubade is considered the centrepiece of the Lesgourgues family business run by Arnaud and Denis Lesgourgues.
The three Armagnac styles featured here are made from the region's four principal grape varieties: Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche, Colombard and Baco. The Lesgourgues family maintains that 'sustainable farming' is practised in their vineyards, such as adding pure sheep manure and growing bean plants between the rows in winter to help restore natural nitrogen levels to the soil. The distillation 'house style' is to use separate alambic (continuous) stills for each variety. The Gascony oak barrels for ageing the spirits are manufactured on site, which is much less common nowadays, and are aerated regularly during maturation then topped up.
Intemporel Hors d’Âge (mostly Baco, 40% abv) is a blend of 'at least 15 different spirits, the youngest of which is 12 years old and including some very old reserves'. It delivers an enticing mix of powerful and smooth, and spicy yet pruney aged characters: a stylish 'starter' Armagnac if you like! Their PR blurb suggests matching it with Roquefort cheese, meat pie or baked apple and pear, although it's dessert-friendly overall I'd say. Approx retail price: €45 for 70cl bottle.
Brut de Fût 1990 is a true vintage Armagnac according to the tech sheet, so all from 1990 which was a fab year for wine pretty much everywhere in France. Its name ('cask sample') implies each batch is bottled on demand, so the spirits remain in barrels until then when three casks of Baco, Ugni Blanc and Colombard are blended and left unfiltered. Richer and punchier (over 50% abv!) than the '80 below, seductively caramelised and concentrated with long cutting finish. About 140 Euros a bottle although available in several smaller sizes too like most of their Armagnacs.
Brut de Fût 1980 (46.7% abv) has similar make-up and production regime as the '90 and spent its long years in 'cellar number 2', which sounds like a good secret place to hide. Wonderfully deep colour and complex nose / flavours with toffee, honey, vanilla, coffee, dried fruits and other more elusive things, relatively smooth and mature although this isn't going to fall apart anytime soon. Deliciously decadent and expensive: €170.
There's more on Laubade and other Armagnac producers from an intensive trip to the region in 2005 on this archive page:

Calvados Pays d’Auge Roger Groult

This highly rated distillery is run by 'fifth-generation' Jean-Roger Groult who continues to produce their tasty Calvados by 'traditional wood-fired double distillation' method, yet likes to be innovative too such as certain special bottlings launched in 2016 aged in old whisky, Jurançon or sherry casks. Both of these Calvas are made from cider apples in the Pays d’Auge subzone and aged in used French red oak casks.
Calvados Vénérable (41% abv): Although 'at least 18 years old', this lovely 'cider brandy' is actually very fruity and appley with a subtle richness and smoothness gained from substantial ageing. Their serving tips include 'with chocolate or apple desserts' as well as a straight 'digestif' of course. Around €75 for 70cl, also available as 5cl, 50cl, 75cl (USA), 150cl and mindbogglingly big 250cl!
30 Year Old Calvados Cask 102 (41% abv): This one-off bottling is described by Groult as 'destined to mature for a few more years and blended into our Réserve Ancestrale, but this spirit had such different aromatic characteristics to our classic range, very likely because this small oval cask was only half-full promoting oxidation. Due to its unique character, we decided to make it into a very limited, special '30 year old single cask' edition, since only 235 bottles were put on sale.' An awesome Calva, one of the best I can remember trying, with rich yet savoury toffee-apple notes and improbable mix of smooth and powerful. Not surprising then, it's reassuringly dear at about €120 for 50cl.
Others in the Groult Calva range include 3 Year Old, 8 Year Old, 12 Year Old, Âge d’or, Doyen d’Âge and Réserve Ancestrale.
Previously about this producer on WineWriting.com (written in 2015).

Single Estate Cognac - Domaines Francis Abécassis

The Abécassis family 'aims to bring together a real collection of estates to create outstanding Cognacs,' the blurb states. Each property has its own vines, winery, distillery and storage cellar so Francis Abécassis and daughter Elodie can control all stages of production. Head Cognac maker Isabelle Couprie then decides the best time to do the blends and bottle each style. The Ugni Blanc variety is grown on low chalky hillsides and fermented in stainless steel tanks, followed by double-distillation in a small Charentais alambic still and ageing in new French oak then old barrels. Neither the press pack nor their website explains exactly how long each of these Cognacs is aged, although the terms VSOP and XO are regulated (at least four and six years respectively according to Martell via Google search).

ABK6 VSOP Cognac (40% abv): Selected lots from their estates in the Petite Champagne, Grande Champagne and Fins Bois subzones (easy enough to find out more about the different Cognac zones etc. by searching rather than me rehashing the same old). Light oak spice and cinnamon notes mingle on its savoury dried fruit and nut palate, quite subtle alcohol and fine in that more restrained Cognac way. €45 for 70cl; also available in 5cl, 35cl, 50cl and 100cl bottles.
Leyrat XO Elite Single Cru Fins Bois (40% abv): Selected from Domaine chez Maillard, 92 hectares in the 'Fins Bois' zone. Deeper coloured and richer aromas with more complex flavours and longer smoother finish. Definitely a notch up, then again it costs €120 in a fancy 70cl carafe and comes in miniatures as well. The serving suggestion sounds good: with crème brûlée or apricot tart.
ABK6 XO Renaissance (40% abv): Selected lots from their estates in the Petite Champagne, Grande Champagne and Fins Bois subzones. Similar to above, perhaps tastes 'older' and equally smooth with layered dried fruits and oak spice. About €129 for 70cl, comes in miniatures too.

Très Vieux Marc de la Champagne - Maison Drappier

This Champagne house was founded in 1808 and is still run by the Drappier family. Their vineyards in Urville have an unusually high proportion of Pinot Noir planted (70%) accompanied by Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. They claim to be the first certified carbon neutral Champagne winery.
Made in a similar way to Italian grappa by distilling the left-over (not a put-down but fact) grape skins and stems from the press, this sexy Marc de Champagne is matured for 10 years in oak casks, and it shows in its smoothness and tempered fieriness (if that isn't a word, it is now). Gives off some of those typical and difficult to describe aromas you get from grappa (kind of 'volatile' dried fruit and stalky grassy notes), but takes the genre to a whole new level in terms of rounded mouth-feel, concentrated complex matured flavours and a touch of freshness nevertheless. Very different, they suggest trying it in a cocktail (I could see that, or just with tonic water?) or, better still, in a sorbet! Around €37 for 70cl, apparently it's exported to Germany, Italy, Japan and the US.

Marc de Châteauneuf-du-Pape - Alain Jaume

The Jaume family has been around in Châteauneuf-du-Pape since 1826 and owns Domaine Grand Veneur, Clos de Sixte and Château Mazane, which are now farmed organically and overseen by Hélène, Christophe and Sébastien Jaume. Distilled from the destemmed dried pressings of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cinsault, then aged in oak casks for five years. The spirit is gradually reduced in strength to 40% abv by adding distilled water. Attractive dried fruit and nut aromas and flavours blend in with wood spice and relatively rounded kick of alcohol; more like Cognac in style perhaps. €32.50 per 70cl.

By the way, this isn't a random selection of obscure spirit producers: they are all part of the elite 'Vignobles & Signatures' club of leading French wineries and distilleries.

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Header image: Château de Flandry, Limoux, Languedoc. Background: Vineyard near Terrats in Les Aspres, Roussillon.