Review: Darroze 40 Y.O. Les Grands Assemblages Bas Armagnac / by Jason Hambrey

Darroze 40 2.jpg
40 years
Distilled from Wine from Colombard, Folle Blanche, and Ugni Blanc
Distiller Darroze (Bas-Armagnac, France)

I'll give an introduction to Armagnac here, since I love the spirit and this one in particular is worth seeking out. Armagnac is solely produced in a region in southwest France - Gascony (south of Bordeaux) at the foothills of the Pyrenees. Generally, it is brandy produced from wine from the region using a single distillation process. This results in a spirit which comes off the still at a lower proof, and, consequently, contains more of the base flavours of the wine which was distilled - resulting in a heavier and earthier spirit than brandy which is distilled twice, like Cognac.

Armagnac is the world's oldest spirit, distilled as early as the 14th century (1411 is the earliest recorded production of the spirit, predating cognac by at least 200 years) when it was touted for medicinal purposes. The spirit really started to become popular as the result of dutch traders in the 17th century who promoted the spirit because it could be easily transported without spoiling and diluted down to a wine level of alcohol to be consumed back in Holland.

Traditionally, Armagnac is distilled once, to about 52% before being put into casks. Thus, the spirit is more floral and flavorful than cognac. 10 different grape varieties are used for production. Traditionally, it is aged in local Monlezun black oak. Because it is a bit more robust and raw than cognac, it requires longer aging to mellow properly.

There are three different regions within Armagnac: Bas Armagnac (the most prestigious), Armagnac Teneraze, and Haut-Armagnac.Unlike whisky, which sources grain from anywhere, Armagnac spirit must be produced from Armagnac grapes, thus enabling distinct terroir to be associated with the spirit. Interestingly, too, because Armagnac is not close to the coast (and thus easy distribution networks), it hasn't developed commercially the way that cognac has (which is dominated by 5 massive companies), and is dominated by a countless number of small family producers. It is a fascinating spirit to explore, particularly because old expressions can be had for a relatively small price.

Review (2016)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2016

Oak, oak, oak reigns supreme on the nose, as one might expect. But, lots else – grape skins, rancio, dried berries, marmalade, dried blueberries, cherries, gooseberries, leather, spicecake, toffee and even some light notes of celery – but all quite impressive…the oak is held in balance by the jammy and dried fruit, which packs an equal punch. The nose is exceptionally intriguing and continues to fascinate.

The palate is silky, with a very nice mix of spice, oak, and fruit. Rich flavourful raisins (as if they are even more concentrated), oak, rancio, and still lots of berries in the mix. Wow. Just don’t sip it fast or you’ll lose so much here. There are light waves of milk chocolate, too.

A drying finish as the tannins make their mark felt – still holding a fair bit of weight. This is an absolutely fabulous spirit, and one that I would take over most whiskies any day. The finish is a touch short, and light – my only critique. A little, also, goes a long way with this one.

Assessment: Exceptional.

Value: Low, as this commands a fairly decent price. But, a great armagnac, and 40 years of age - that is hard to find at this price…