Friday Tastings: The Armagnacs of Francis Darroze

Armagnac: Little understood, rarely considered. But while the Cognac industry has flourished, dominated by global giants pushing largely indistinguishable brandies, the eaux-de-vie of the humble Armagnac region remain artisanal creations, fierce and vividly-flavored. The oldest style of French brandy, Armagnac is made from the same grape varietals as Cognac (Folle Blanche, Ugni Blanc, and Colombard) but only distilled once—producing a rougher spirit that requires longer maturation in oak to mellow, lending an intriguing complexity. And there is perhaps no better example of this powerful and individual class of brandies that those of Francis Darroze. He honed his palate as the wine steward for the family restaurant in Bas-Armagnac (where the tawny sands nurture the finest Armagnac vines), and began buying and aging his own eaux-de-vie in 1974. Darroze sources brandies from over 30 different estates in Bas-Armagnac. The core of their range: A large collection of vintage, single-cask Armagnacs (they won’t blend even two casks from the same Domaine), always bottled at barrel strength. If you can find it, try the 1981 Domaine Au Martin, a massive yet nuanced hunk of a brandy, offering a cavalcade of fruit, cocoa, and tannic oak spice, for about $200. Between a Champagne toast and this, the French have New Year’s Eve on lockdown.

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