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.