Wednesday, May 8, 2013
Darroze: Armagnac's Independent Bottler
Darroze is probably the most prominent independent bottler of Armagnacs. The company was founed by Francis Darroze, a restauranteur in the Bas Armagnac in the early 1970s who purchased Armagnac casks for his customers. Eventually, he purchased large enough quantities that he began bottling them for sale independent of his restaurants, and the business grew into the primary independent bottler of Armagnacs. Darroz died in 1995, but his name lives on in the bottles with the beige, script style labels and red wax caps.
Unlike the negociants of Cognac who favor blending, Darroz operates much more like a Scotch indie bottler. Each bottle of Darroz Armagnac is from a single grower/producer that is identified on the label, and many of the bottlings are vintage dated. As with independent bottlers of Scotch a decade ago, Darroz bottlings are the only way to taste the brandies of many of Armagnac's smaller growers.
As with Scotch indie bottlings, it can be difficult to track down the same bottle, and some of these are hard to find, but there are many Darroz bottlings out there, and I thought it would be worth it to taste some of their offerings to give a sense of what they do. Today I will sample three Darroz brandies from two growers, both located in La Freche in the Bas Armagnac. While I don't know the exact grape proportions, these are all made with predominantly Baco grapes.
Darroze Domaine de Salie 1988, 48% abv ($140)
The nose is all wood and spice, like the inside of a wooden box. The palate is spice-forward with cloves and powdered ginger with some nice sweetness coming in late palate. The finish comes back to cloves with some floral notes and finally, some nice earthy notes. This is a really wonderful brandy with so much spice, but in layers that add to its complexity. Really wonderful stuff, it's one to put on the list.
Darroze Domaine de Salie 1977, 35 yo, 44% abv
The nose on this is even woodier than the 1988 but with less spice and a soapy note. The palate is surprisingly sweet with pears that trail into the finish. This one is a sweeter, more one note brandy. It lacks the sophisticated wood and spice interaction that the 1988 has. Between the two, I definitely prefer the '88. I don't list a price for this one because it's the only one of the three that I couldn't find currently available.
Darroze Domaine de Coquillon 1974, 33 yo, 48.2% abv ($211)
The nose on this one is very bold with wood and spice, though the wood is more like the polished wood of a library, than the raw wood I get in the other two. The palate is really striking with tobacco, chocolate, clove and molasses. It finishes with sweet, earthy notes then develops a strong, numbing menthol. This is a dense, flavorful brandy. The nose and early palate are wonderful but then it becomes a bit too sweet and syrupy, which makes me wonder if there are boise and sweeteners in it.
Darroze clearly knows what they are doing, and I'll be looking for new bottles from new growers. Back in the good old days, Wine & Liquor Depot in Van Nuys used to have a huge selection of Darroze bottlings. As with their independent Scotch, the selection has dwindled, but last time I visited, there was still a smattering of old Darroze bottles on the shelves. It's certainly worth checking out if you're looking for these.