Monday, April 21, 2014

Ninteenth Century Armagnac: Domaine de Baraillon 1893

When K&L's spirit buyers, the Two Davids, go to France, they can find pretty extraordinary stuff, but perhaps nothing as extraordinary as an Armagnac distilled in 1893.  Distilled by one of my favorite Armagnac houses, Domaine de Baraillon in the Bas-Armagnac region, this Armagnac would have been made in the wake of the devastating phylloxera epidemic which hit the Armagnac region in 1878, a few years after it showed up in Cognac.  According to K&L, the family told them the brandy was transferred from oak to glass demijohns sometime in the 1930s and has been stored in glass since then, so it is around 40 years old.  It was bottled at a cask strength 40% abv.  The price on this was originally $2,500 but K&L recently dropped it to $1,500 (which made it workable for a group buy).  While that's still quite high for a bottle of anything, it's nothing compared to what a nineteenth century whiskey would cost, demonstrating again that we are, indeed, living in a golden age of brandy.

Domaine de Baraillon 1893, 40% abv. ($1,500)

The nose is well balanced with sweet brandy notes along with oak and tons of spice.  There's cinnamon, ginger, clove and some good, earthy notes.  This is a really complex nose that I've come to associate with some of the best Armagnac.  Air is very important to these very old spirits, and the more air this one gets, the fruitier it becomes, picking up stewed plums and raisins.  The palate starts sweeter than I expected with light fruit notes before taking on some bitter notes and picking up some spice which takes into the finish which is both bitter and spicy.   Again, air makes a huge difference.  On my first sip, the bitter notes were overpowering, but as it sits, they fade into a pleasant, earthy note that's balanced with the spice and fruit notes.  The balance in this is extraordinary between the sweet, spicy and bitter notes; each are bold but none manages to subsume the others.  It's also a really delicious and drinkable brandy.

Comparing this to the 1985 Baraillon, one of my favorites from Baraillon, distilled almost a century later, the 1985 is much less complex on both nose and lighter on the palate.  Though it's very drinkable, and still one of my favorites, it doesn't match the boldness, complexity and balance of the 1893. 

Interestingly, he 1893 profile isn't that different from the great Armagnacs I've had of more recent vintage.  The fruit, spice and earthy bitterness matches the profile I've come to expect, even if all of those notes were bolder in this bottling.

So here's to the golden age of brandy.  This is an amazing deal for a rare brandy, and an even better deal if you've got a group of friends to split it with.


Josh Peters said...

Sounds great and thanks for sharing your notes on such a rare and exciting bottle. I just started getting into Armagnac thanks to suggestions from David OG. I've always liked, but never been a huge brandy fan till delving into this end of the spectrum.

David D said...

I can promise you that the brandy revolution is indeed coming. I'm not sure many people know this, but France drinks waaaay more whisky than brandy. Therefore, the same trends that are popular here (single barrel, cask strength, etc) are catching on there. This is leading to an entirely new style of brandy, leading away from the blend (much like what happened with single malt) and towards the single producer.

And I'm sure you'll get a few questions about this, but the brandy is not 120 years old. I don't know why they put that on the bottle or how it slipped past the TTB (actually I think the TTB requested we add that for some reason because they didn't understand the idea of a vintage spirit), but it was definitely bottled in the 1930s.

That should tell you about how reliable a booze label is.

David D said...

Going back to that TTB point, I think it was because it was distilled in 1893 and bottled in 2013. The TTB didn't understand demijohn glass aging, so in their mind the spirit was 120 years old. Something like that.

sku said...

Thanks for the clarification David.

Funky Tape said...

Just tocked up on Darroze on a recent trip to San Fran. If I end up spending more on brandy than whiskey over the next couple years, I know just where to find Driscoll now. That is, if he stays put for more than a few days.

Sku - what are some other Armagnac's that you'd recommend a patterned whiskey drinker look for?

sku said...

Funky Tape, I've had great luck with K&L's Armagnac selections but have particularly liked the Baraillons and Pellehauts. You can see all my Armagnac reviews here.

Anonymous said...

Sku- You write, "Interestingly, he 1893 profile isn't that different from the great Armagnacs I've had of more recent vintage. The fruit, spice and earthy bitterness matches the profile I've come to expect, even if all of those notes were bolder in this bottling."

Any "great" Armagnacs in particular?

You suggest it is different from the 1985 Baraillon. And yet that seems to have been one of your favorites...I'm a bit confused, but mostly just looking for specific recommendations.

sku said...

Anon, what I meant by that is that the profile isn't different from the general Armagnac profile I've come to expect. It's different from the '85 Baraillon, but it's in the same flavor family.

I was thinking about it compared to old whiskeys which often have a very different flavor profile and mouthfeel to current whiskeys. For instance, pre-prohibition American bourbons tend to be very rye heavy and pre-pro ryes often have a sandalwood note that you don't get in more modern ryes. Bourbons from the '70s tend to be sweeter and have more caramel notes than what we have today. These are very noticeable differences which can be detected across brands from those eras.

I was expecting a similar generational difference in a very old Armagnac, but I found that the flavor profile of the 1893 was much more similar to that of more recent Armagnacs than I experienced with older whiskeys. Tasting blind, I may well have guessed that the 1893 was a modern Armagnac, which would be much less likely with the whiskeys I analogized to.