Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Depression Era Brandy: Domaine de Baraillon 1933

Domaine de Baraillon is one of my favorite Armagnac houses, and I was lucky enough to have enough friends who were interested to make a split somewhat reasonable for this rare brandy that K&L plucked out of France this year. I've done lots of previous reviews of Baraillon Armagnacs, including an even older one from 1893.

This Armagnac was distilled in 1933 and moved to glass demijohns in the mid-1980s, so it had about 50 years in wood.  It was bottled at cask strength.  Unfortunately, it's no longer available, but I thought it was unique enough to be worth recording.

Domaine de Baraillon 1933, 40% abv ($800)

The nose on this is massive and just bursting with fruit.  There's grape, raisin, prune and it just comes rushing at you like a big fruit bomb.  The palate gives a quick burst of sweet then quickly turns dry, spicy and oaky with pepper.  It trails off with light bitter notes that grow into a very earthy, bitter finish, but the fruit is still there on the nose of the finish.

This is a pretty extraordinary brandy.  Like the other Baraillons, it has elements of fruit, spice and oak, but where the others balance them together, this one divides them, giving you one after the other - fruit on the nose, spice and oak on the palate, earthiness on the finish.  While it's less balanced at any given point, the progression is really interesting and makes me keep going back for another sip to start the whole thing over again.   

This is a really wonderful brandy.  Yes, $800 is really expensive, but it's about as much as you would pay for this year's Pappy 20 on the secondary market, so there's that.

UPDATE: A few people have asked me how this can be  cask strength if it's only 40% abv.  Well, it's old and it lost proof over the years.  It's likely that Baraillon was monitoring the abv and moved it to glass when it hit 40% to keep it from dropping any further in the cask.  Interestingly, despite its low proof, it doesn't taste at all diluted, which makes me wonder if there is a flavor difference between a brandy (or whiskey) that naturally reduced to a certain proof over time versus one that had water added prior to bottling in order to dilute it.


Funky Tape said...

Sounds like it stomps overrated and over-commercialized corn juice out cold (for the street price, anyway).

Besides maybe Tariquet's current line, which other high quality armagnacs bottled at CS do you recommend?

sku said...

Lot's of the brandies I've reviewed are cask strength. Cask strength still tends to be on the low side of abv in most brandies. I don't know if it has to do with climate or some other factor that makes it decline (with this one, it was probably a function of age).

I should have a review of a higher abv cask strength brandy coming up soon.

Matt L said...

They had this on sale when they only had a few bottles left for like $500 or something. I was so tempted, so very cool to own/drink something this old. But I balked. This stuff was 6 years old when the Germans invaded France! 11 when the Allies landed! Amazing. I assume the flavors being so concentrated at just 40% is similar to reducing a sauce on a stove. The water cooks off, leaving the flavors behind, making them much more concentrated. Whereas adding water to a spirit to make it 40% is the exact opposite and dilutes the flavor.

My Annoying Opinions said...

My (admittedly limited) experience with single malts that have dropped "naturally" close to 40% over a long maturation period suggests that your speculation at the end is correct: there doesn't seem to be as much of a loss of intensity as compared to diluted whiskies.

However, to complicate matters a bit, I've also noted that a number of presumably diluted malts from G&M--older Longmorns, Glen Grants and Strathislas, in particular--also seem to have much more depth than you'd expect at 40% or even 43%. So maybe it comes down to the blender's art and selection. (These older G&M's don't seem to be single casks.)

Matt L said...

Hmm. Could it be then that maybe they used barrels that were below 40% and blended them with barrels that were above to make the whiskey an even 40? Speculation of course, but that could account for the strength of the flavor in a whiskey like that. I know similar things been done before, not sure about those particular whiskys of course.

Funky Tape said...

Great points. Coming from the whiskey world its a bit difficult to determine how far one's $$ can go with brandy and what really constitutes value. Thus the question about CS. And since local selection is non-existent I'm looking at W coast shops like K&L to fill the gap.

Anonymous said...

FunkyTape, I'd humbly counter that in terms of scoring valuation the degree of difficulty in whiskies is about as wicked and brutal as it gets. Getting into Armagnac/Cognac is a stroll in the park by comparison.

sku said...

Matt L, that's a common practice with Scotch, but it usually involves blending an older, underproof whiskey with a younger, stronger whiskey. It's harder to do with a vintage dated spirit since all of it has to come from the same year.

Matt L said...

Right, but he didn't say if they were vintage dated. I'm not versed enough to know if those specific ones were. Although that's probably a safe assumption. If they were just "20 year old" or something they could've had an older cask that was under proof that they added.