According to Francetoday.com:
‘Much of Armagnac is made in such minute quantities that it’s never exported — one reason to visit the region. Some estates might, for example, make just 250 or 500 cases a year. Such is the disparity in production between the rival brandies [Cognac vs Armagnac], that in any given year Cognac loses almost as much to evaporation—the so-called “angels’ share”—as Armagnac actually produces. Small wonder that some regard armagnac as cognac’s poor cousin—a sort of second-division brandy’. How wrong they are. Feisty armagnac may be small but it punches way above its weight. It is to cognac what single malt whiskies are to the big Scotch brands like Johnny Walker’.
Darroze is a well-reputed house of Armagnac.
Many decades ago, the highly respected chef Jean Darroze introduced his son Francis to the culinary arts. By the 1950’s and into the 1960’s, Jean along with Francis had established a world renowned family restaurant in Villeneuve de Marsan, right in the heart of Gascony. Alongside the cooking, wine & armagnac naturally played a crucial role.
With a shared passion for both food & beverages, the duo begun to built up an impressive collection of both wine & armagnac via from the Bas-Armagnac region. In the 1970’s they had a cellar built, specifically dedicated to ageing eau de vie under the Darroze name.
Francis’s son Marc, a trained oenologist [and Adam Sandler lookalike], joined the family business in the 1980’s. With Francis now retired, Marc continues the practice of buying spirit from small producers and ageing it in the company’s cellars. It has been widely reported in the past that the Darroze family collection had amounted to 250 different armagnacs types from 30 properties including more than 50 vintages – and growing.
Darroze 12yo  Les Grands Assemblages 43% WF82
A ‘treasure hunted’ blend of Armagnacs of different ages and regions.
- N: Plenty of vanilla for sure with a grape-y=malty buttery-ness.
- T: This could easily pass for rum, grape-y malty rum.
- F: This is the first Armagnac I’ve ever had that displays worryingly similar traits to more modern, engineered, rapidly seasoned & vanilla-driven cask-led malts.
- C: A good one for blind tastings perhaps. Ask, which spirit?
Scores 84 points
Darroze 2001/2015 14yo Bas Armagnac Domaine Couzard Lassalle 49%
- N: Initially woody-sweet with grape-y ginger>orange. I while later and it’s noticeably sweet creamy=buttery with a little moist earthy/woody-bracken action before the varnished-caramel-vanilla fruitiness follows through. Then we have Amaretti biscuits, Mr Kipling French fancies, ginger cake, orange sponge, a little furniture polish=vanilla, varnished wood shavings, lemon balm-scented shaving foam and bergamot orange. Quite the “dizzle” as Sam would say. The seemingly resinous youthful oak appears appeased by the once-distilled fruity spirit, affirming excellent balance.
- T: Earthy [clay-like] grapey start. Look out for ginger before the vanillin kicks in, followed by some herbal heat [abv=49.3%], and a waxy-buttery mouthfeel. Later that gingery development is still going, albeit much less wayward. It’s edgy stuff but for the malty-fruity sweet chew on either side of the travel that appeals greatly. Sip-size and water dependant, you shall receive some ‘bless-ed’ treats.
- F: Decent length finish on grapey/waxy earthy-malty<caramel with controlled fresh resinous wood leanings. The vanilla character is on a [refreshingly] different level to current [bourbonized] malt expressions – less obtrusive perhaps, more consolidated, at ease.
- C: I loved every sniff & sip from this bottle. Yummy, glugable juice with a colourful array of varying flavours throughout – the lot polished off in a matter of days. Fabulous malternative, perfect when none of your malts are quite cutting it.
Scores 88 points
Darroze 1997 19yo Domaine de Jouanchicot 49.6%
From a purist perspective, Armagnac would ideally be aged in casks made with black oak from the Monlezun forest or the Noir forests in the Landes – so I’m led to understand. However, the rules for Armagnac don’t restrict the oak type for ageing to any region. In reality, Armagnac producers in the past would have aged/stored their eau de vie in any type of vessel that was available/to hand. In the last few centuries that would have likely included Cognac casks which are far more widespread. As far as I understand it, there’s nothing to stop Armagnac producers from using US virgin and ex-bourbon casks – is there?
- C: It appears we are even deeper into bourbonized cask territory than even the 12yo. Perfectly acceptable, simple and easy drinking spirit, but let’s hope Armagnac world hasn’t caught the current painting-by-numbers whisky bug from the homogenous vanilla monster. Provisional scores 80 points.
- N: Very malty and dunnage-y, or at least the associated illusion thereof. See pic [Left] from liquidindulgence.co.uk showing dunnage-y style racking [house not stated].
- T: A cask-centric number. Things are slightly improved with water, the whole thing becoming incredibly malty again.
- F: [With water], a good length finish on soft yet new oak, mild aniseed and vanilla with an easy bittersweet. Slightly detergent-like spirity/rum-like stuff at the end.
- C: This is decent enough Armagnac presented in a modern/current style, arguably an ideal gateway expression therefore, for malty heads. More importantly however is my disappointment that the current pre-occupation with new/1st-fill fast-yielding oak casks rife within the whisky industry, seems to have firmly reached Gascony. I wonder if, like whisky, we shall soon be lamenting the loss of old & rare Armagnac at those super low [too low] prices? Let’s hope I have it all wrong. A trip to Armagnac me thinks!
Scores 82 points
Darroze 1977/2016 39yo Domaine de la Poste 49%
- N: Reserved vibrancy with notes of cherry, lardy cake and woody toffee,… I’ve quickly entered the subjective zone, away from my usual shopping list-perceived objectiveness.
- T: Arrives with confidence, softening beautifully thereafter. Sustained firm oak development with cherry juice, cola and medicinal hints equal to a charmingly soft freshness – all oaky sweet yet with a thin bitter coat of varnish. Mouthfeel comes with added water, as is so often the case. Long-ish unravel.
- F: Vanilla cherry cola wrapped in a soft malt-like oak blanket. There are many more offerings but I haven’t currently the opportunity to make a closer, more in-depth inspection.
- C: Provisionally, pretty fabulous. Another league above compared to the Darroze 1975/2015 40yo ‘Domaine De Tillet’ or the Darroze 1974/2012 38yo ‘Domaine de Poyanne’, both of which are excellent. [Provisionally scores 90]
- N: The most charming gentle sweet sugars, rum-like for sure – at least, it’s how I often wish rums to be. Sugar cane then with a cake dough heart, seemingly malty with plump raisins filled with soft warm ice cream liqueur [imagine], and current/modern Springbank-esque mineral notes.
- T: This grape-based spirit holds great form, yet we have the casks to thank equally for allowing this splendid marriage. Those casks have aided a rich wood complex of aniseed, liquorice sticks, herbal notes, freshly squeezed lemon & lime juice and much more besides. Empathetically oak led.
- F: Flows effortlessly into the finish. A touch of salty lugworm in damp grey paper (anglers will know), and more aniseed into liquorice wood. These casks are to die for.
- C: Armagnac of this quality, presented at this age & vintage with this kind of form simply doesn’t come around too often. I’m pretty certain this is the best Armagnac I’ve had to date. It evokes the kind of imagery & emotion that only the elite spirits can conjure, simply through aromas & tastes. Can one buy a bottle? Not that I can find [all sold out], but there are other Darroze offerings online with almost identical specifications.
Scores 93 points