The SOMM Journal

October/November 2014

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Page 50 of 120

50 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2014 a sleepy region in Southwest France, small, family-run pro- ducers distill the country's oldes t, most artisanal spirit. Armagnac aficionados tout its texture, primary fruit flavors and oak-influenced notes of vanilla, caramel and toffee—which contrast with the subtle floral nuances of nearby cousin Cognac. Each damp November, alembic stills are lit, and friends and family are invited to dine next to their warming flames at celebratory harvest din - ners. But spending a few days in the region that time seems to have forgotten, drinking spirits that have been produced since at least the 14th century, belies Armagnac's exciting future. The latest crop of producers is young, energetic and not making their grandfather's Armagnac. "The [younger] generation of distillers is quite dynamic," notes Denis Lesgourgues, co-owner (along with his brother Arnaud) and President of Château de Laubade. "We travel more, we are more open- minded, and we want to see Armagnac more pow - erful among the super-premium market." Château de Laubade, a single-estate vineyard with 260 acres under vine, is making some decid- edly modern winemaking choices. The house is the region's largest grower of the Baco grape, which Lesgourgues believes is essential for crafting a high-quality spirit. (Baco has been in overall decline in Gascony in favor of Colombard, Ugni Blance and Folle Blanche.) "To us, this grape embodies what makes Armagnac unique, rich, structured and complex." Laubade also maintains a coopering house to craft casks from oak purchased from the sur - rounding forest in Gascony, whose staves are aged on the property. In 2011, Laubade made what Lesgourgues calls a difficult decision: increasing by three years the overall aging of its flagship XO Armagnac, a blend of more than 40 brandies with an average of 20 years in the cask. "We were able to make it more complex, rounder and finer while working on the finish, which is more exquisite than ever." Holding more spirit in cask makes for a more complex, yet easily sippable finished product; it also means that fewer bottles will be hitting store shelves. Armin Grassa, co-owner of Château du Tariquet (along with his brother Rémy) believes the American consumer today is looking for that restrained, easy drinkability. "Consumers are getting more inter - ested in high-end Armagnacs," he explains "Not necessarily old, but they are looking for elegance ın { fine spirits } Jean-Jacques, Denis and Arnaud Lesgourgues at Château de Laubade. Jérôme Delord tastes through the Delord line-up at Château Delord. PHOTO COURTESY OF CHÂTEAU DE LAUBADE PHOTO COURTESY OF CHÂTEAU DELORD "Armagnac will be drunk because of the quality of the product, not because it is cheaper than Cognac."

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