Wednesday, March 2, 2016
No, I Can't Recommend a Good Armagnac
For the past few years, I've been singing the praises of brandy, and Armagnac in particular. As a result, I get a lot of requests for Armagnac recommendations. This is always tough. While there is great Armagnac to be had at great prices, it's not very widespread.
There are just two people who seem responsible for bringing in the majority of the great Armagnac (and many other French spirits for that matter) available in the US. Charles Neal, in California, is a long-time importer of French spirits. He brings in all of K&L's special Armagnac picks as well as many others. Nicolas Palazzi is a New York based importer/distributor. His company, PM Spirits, brings in tons of good stuff from all over France. The problem is, these guys have limited reach. Neal's best stuff are the K&L picks, but he also brings in barrels for D&M in San Francisco. In Southern California, you can find Palazzi's stuff at K&L and Everson Royce in Pasadena, and it's in a number of NY venues including Astor Wines.
But what if you're not in New York or California? Well, you can order on-line from K&L or Astor, but if you're in a no-shipping state, you're in trouble. The Armagnac selection in most liquor stores, including many that have huge whiskey selections, is tiny, and the stuff that is there tends to be from a few big producers or blenders that make fairly indistinct stuff (Tariquet, Laubade, Castarede, etc.).
As for all of those fun things I write about, Pellehaut, Baraillon, Domaine d'Aurensan, you're probably out of luck. The big exception is Darroze. They are one of the best bottlers in Armagnac and bottle lots of cask strength, single grower expressions as well as a number of excellent blends. They are the one really great Armagnac bottler that has more widespread availability, though they are also more expensive than most smaller producers.
And while it would be great to have fantastic Armagnac available everywhere, it's probably never going to happen. Most Armagnac producers are tiny. Neal and Palazzi (and the K&L Davids) spend their time hunting around dusty barns in Gascony to find the good stuff. It's like American Pickers, but with brandy and in France. And the same is largely true for Calvados and even Cognac.
So, I'm sorry that I can't recommend a great Armagnac, even though you live in a big city with great liquor stores, but who knows what the future holds? There is definitely room for more Armagnac in the US and so hopefully, as it grows in popularity, we will start to see more of it in more places.