Thursday, January 10, 2013

Domaine D'Esperance

To wrap up our week of Armagnac, we'll be tasting a 1998 brandy. Brandy importer/bottler Nicolas Palazzi was kind enough to send me a sample of his Domaine D'Esperance single barrel 1998 Armagnac. Domaine D'Espearance is a very small grower (10 hectares) in the Bas-Armagnac region. Palazzi imports a number of expressions, including a five year old and a ten year old, as well as a number of single casks. They contain no coloring or additives.

The 1998 vintage is made from 100% baco grapes and aged in Gascony oak casks (which tend to have a high tannin content).

Domaine D'Esperance 1998, 14 years old, Barrel 69, 49% abv ($90)

This one smells like bourbon. In fact, if I were nosing it blind, I would likely mistake it for a high rye bourbon and a very good one at that It's got lots of oak, spice and even some of that corn sweetness. The palate reveals its true nature, a dry, spicy brandy with cloves and then pepper. The finish lingers nicely, emphasizing the spice and, for the first time, the underlying wine, and the notes blend together like a mulled wine.

Dry and complex, this Armagnac might be challenging for some who need some sweetness, but I thought it was delightful. If you're ready for the next level, check it out. Right now it's only available in the east, but I'm told there are a few bottles that should be headed into California.

Next week I'll move out of Armagnac to try some Cognac and a Spanish brandy.


Anonymous said...


Good for you to highlight fine quality brandies in your blog! I’ve long wondered why brandies haven’t received the enthusiast attention that whiskeys do, especially not in the U.S. Of course, one reason may be that the brandy category is much smaller than the whiskey category. Plus, the brandy market is dominated by cognac, and most cognac sold today is an industrialized product that is under-aged, well doctored, and overpriced.

I hope more specialist brandies (especially cognac, armagnac and calvados) come to the U.S. market. For years it has been just a trickle. But the real brandy enthusiast, of course, should go to France. (It’s much more crucial than a whiskey enthusiast’s trip to Scotland.) Go, for example, to the town of Cognac. Once there, pull over at La Cognatheque and marvel at the huge selection of specialist cognacs in such a small shop. Then rent a car and drive out into the countryside. Stop at a small producer’s facility, taste, and buy something interesting. (Speaking French is helpful but not essential. I’ve found that the French are very friendly.) Or go to the Armagnac region further south, where Condom is a city, not a protective device. Or go to Normandy in the north to stock up on calvados. In all cases, the number of small producers selling their products is astounding.

Of course, there are shops in Paris, I recommend Caves Auge. But bring your credit card and go on a diet beforehand if you are rotund. The aisles in this small but well stocked shop are so narrow that you’d think the place was designed for hipsters in their tight pants. And most decent Parisian restaurants have a good selection of vintage armagnacs available for after dinner.

Can’t get to France right now? Then go to the Charles Neal Selections website. Learn all about cognac, armagnac and calvados. And see if you can find any of these brandies he imports into the U.S. I especially recommend his Domaine Boingneres armagnacs and Camut calvados. Both are among the very best in their categories. Charles definitely knows his booze.

So do like Sku says… enjoy a fine brandy, if you can find it! Any idiot can pour Ardbeg Galileo. But with Domaine Boingneres or Domaine d’Ognoas, you’ll really be cool!

Tom Troland

Unknown said...

Have you found anyone, professional or otherwise, whose reviews of brandy you respect? I tried to search some out and failed.

Anonymous said...


Paul Pacult reviews all types of distilled spirits in his publication Spirit Journal, including brandies. And I trust his judgment. Trouble is that the specialist brandy market is small and fragmented. So the interesting bottle you see in the shop has probably not been reviewed by Pacult. Your best bet is to choose an intriguing brandy bottle on the shelf, the selection in most shops is not overwhelming. And if it is, ask the brandy monger in the shop for assistance.

Tom Troland

patrick bateman said...

man, it would be great if ski would taste some calvados and review them here.
i'd love to learn what to buy, calvados-wise, at different price points.

sku said...

Tom, thanks for your thoughtful comments.

Nate, part of the reason I wanted to really tackle brandy is the dearth of information on-line. Tom is right that Pacult and some other spirits generalists review them, but there aren't really any brandy specialists the way there are whiskey specialists.

I've been amazed how may people, both in the industry and enthusiasts have reached out to me, just in these last two weeks that I've been posting on brandy. There is clearly a thirst for more brandy discussion (as well as a thirst for the brandy itself).

p. bateman said...

obviously, i meant skU.
sorry for the typo.

Numen said...

To some extent, the problems are the scale of Cognac production relative to whisky. If I recall, global consumption of Cognac is approximately 1/10th that of whisky, and Armagnac is a tiny fraction of Armagnac. I don't know that we'll ever get to the point that there's the sort of community and following for French brandy that there is for whiskies.

On Calvados, there are so many options. Once-distilled, twice-distilled, Pays d'Auge, Domfrontais (required to be made with some pear). The character of most Calvados also changes with age (this is a broad generalization). Younger stuff tends to be more on the acidic green apples, older, to a point, turns more to red apples and caramel/syrup notes. There are also a ton of different apple varieties that are used that affect it. I'd recommend Charles Neal's book on Calvados. Sadly, his tasting notes left much to be desired, but it's a great read on the spirit, and nearly an ethnography of the region.

Pacult is one of the few people who consistently review brandies and non-whisky spirits, but it's hit or miss and you can't count on a particular spirit being reviewed. In general, there is also less clarity from most brandy makers in terms of the contents of the bottle.

Sku is right about the dearth of information and reviews. It can be very difficult to know or hear about things that are worth trying, and it can be daunting (and expensive) knowing that there are a lot of additive-laden duds on most shelves.

As Tom (above) recommended Domaine Boingneres and Camut. Boingeres has really impressed me so far. Camut was very good, too, and I'd recommend also Christian Drouin (Coeur de Lion) as another one of the top labels (though they're not purely a grower-producer, not that it really matters). For Armagnac, some releases by Francis Darroze are exceptional, but it can be nearly impossible to know what you're getting. I'd recommend Chateau de Laubade for vintages and blends as well as Laberdolive. There are a bunch of great estates, but those are just another two to consider.

sku said...

Numen, you're absolutely right about the scale of Cognac to whisky. Here are some 2008 numbers that I had readily a hand. Yes, they are a few years old, but I'd be surprised if there was a huge difference. This is bottles sold worldwide for the year.

Whiskey: 1.6 billion
Cognac: 163 million
Armagnac: 6.6 million

Anonymous said...

Numen offers some excellent perspectives on calvados! The great thing about calvados is that it is good young or old. It is even good unaged, although it is not, strictly speaking, calvados at that point. Since most of the aroma and flavor of calvados comes from the base fruit, the aging process can only add nuances, a bit like wood finishes on whiskey. So novice calvados drinkers should just go out and buy a bottle or two of whatever is available. Try it, see what you like. Don’t imagine that older (and more expensive) is better. And, most of all, don’t rely too much on other people’s opinions. Whiskey drinkers, I think, put way too much emphasis on ratings. Some drinkers even think that Jim Murray can judge a whiskey down to a half percentage point. Remember, spirits ratings are made up. Just like comic books and TV wrestling. Just somebody’s opinion. Your opinion may be quite different!

And, yes, Numen is right, Charles Neal’s book on calvados is great. But only if you really want to know almost everything about the subject! The book is so heavy, it feels like a physics textbook for engineers. You could even tie a rope to it and use it as a boat anchor. But why would you want to? Keep the book and use it as a reference in planning your trip to Normandy.

I look forward to Sku’s thoughts on calvados!

Tom Troland

NP said...

Having an open mind and giving products one might not have heard before a chance is key.

At a bar or a restaurant, instead of having the usual XYZ's XO, get adventurous and try out something new. Most likely, if the spirits list includes the products from artisan makers, the sommeliers/spirits guy will offer a taste prior to pouring a full 2oz pour.

If one never do brandy at the end of a meal, may be one could try opening up one's appetite with a dram before the meal. Or try a food and spirits pairing etc...

Keeping an open mind also prevents from going by misconceptions and shaping one's drinking patterns by following "dogmas/generalizations" such as "armagnac is more artisanal than cognac" or "I dont like armagnac" or "all cognacs are sweet" etc...
When it might be true for the major brands, it is often not as black&white as there is truly a world beyond the 10 ubiquitous labels on the market.

Much like deciding on whether one likes whisk(e)y or not and categorizing this type of spirits based on a dram of Red Stag. Or Ballantine's.

There are as many flavor and aroma profiles in brandy as they are small producers making those products.

Finally I agree that there is not one useful source of info on the internet about brandies when everybody and his brother seems to be writing and have an opinion about whisk(e)y. But when one witnesses people like Sku showing interest ot the category, it seems things are slowly changing for the better.