Despite being an advocate for malternatives, I’ll admit there are brands in various categories I try not to share. L’Encantada Armagnac has been one of them.
In the world of spirits, the recent rise in popularity of sugarcane-based spirits and agave-based spirits seem to have made them the new mysterious and alluring categories. But, I feel like it’s fruit-based spirits such as brandy, grappa, and eau-de-vie which are more mysterious.
Armagnac is one of these. It’s the older brother of Cognac yet it’s lesser known. Part of what keeps this French brandy mysterious is that none of the big boys own any brands. The most famous Armagnac brands I can think of are Delord, Darroze and Château Laubade. Mention these to regular drinkers, and they’ll most likely not know what you’re talking about. It’s safe to say that Cognac gets way more coverage due to how much more marketed they are. Rémy Martin is owned by Rémy Cointreau. Martell is under Pernod Ricard. Courvoisier is run by Beam-Suntory. Hennessy is under LVMH. None of the big brands own an Armagnac brand.
Armagnac, being lesser known, makes it more coveted by geekier drinkers. The mix of quality, age, story, and price make the past and current prices seem like a steal. As a result, some tend to keep the praise of the category and brands on the down low. This helps delay or avoid the unavoidable going out of control of its category. A certain amount of lamentation is always felt and expressed whenever that happens. As I explore other non-mainstream categories, I learn to feel and think like these folks. There’s always a certain amount of fear that the pricing and availability of a category will go crazy once it reaches a certain amount of fame.
Now, Steve Ury has gone out and mentioned L’Encantada in this Bourbon Pursuit episode. Because of how well-known he is and the quantity of viewers Bourbon Pursuit gets, I feel like I can talk more about it, too. More like: there’s a larger voice I can direct the blame too should there be a drastic shortage brought about by an increase in demand.
Steve is better known in the spirit circles in America through his old blog called Sku’s Recent Eats. He would post reviews and TTB approval labels there. But, some time in 2017, he ceased his activities in that blog. He’s now the moderator and admin of the Serious Brandy Facebook group. I suggest watching the video to learn more about Steve.
L’Encantada is an independent bottler of Armagnac formed in Gascony by a small group of Armagnac enthusiasts. The company just celebrated its 10 year anniversary this November.
The concept was started by Vincent Cornu who has a catering business in Armagnac. He would buy Armagnac in bulk along with local restaurateurs. A regular supplier offered to sell him their casks as they were about to retire. I’ve heard that they source brandy by visiting the cellars of each producer and picking out casks. These are then blended together or bottled as single cask strength. Aside from not diluting their brandy, another great thing is they don’t add sugar to their releases.
I became more aware of the brand, and Armagnac in general, through some Bourbon folks in 2016. They were, and are most likely still, a part of the aforementioned Serious Brandy Facebook group. The group members here are mostly based in America. Similar to what Steve said,we were getting sick of how expensive and hard it is to get the bottles we loved. So, like a lot of whisky drinkers then and today, we started looking for alternatives.
Armagnac’s profile can range from being distillate-forward to balanced or to being wood-forward; it somehow got dubbed as the Bourbon drinker’s brandy. I guess this is due to the American market getting L’Encantada Armagnac being aged in new oak or just wood-forward. Come to think of it, all of the expressions I’ve had from them have been wood-forward as well. Even the first few L’Encantada bottles I bought from Singapore share this profile.
The importer of L’Encantada in the US PM Spirits. I talked about this wonderful company in this Cognac review. Re-reading PM Spirits’ description of L’Encantada, they mention that Vincent’s palate leans toward rich and wood-forward Armagnac. Due to US regulations, they get to import 750ml bottles, while the rest of the world gets the regular 500ml bottles.
This L’Encantada Domaine Lous Mouracs 1979 39 year I’m reviewing is another of the three samples sent to me by PM Spirits’ founder and owner Nicolas Palazzi. According to this Bozzy Org review, this is made from mostly Ugni Blanc grapes with some Baco grape-based distillate added, then aged in new Gascon oak.
L’Encantada Domaine Lous Mouracs 1979 39 Years Old Cask #3 – Review
50.6% abv. $225 from K&L Wines.
Color: Muscovado sugar syrup.
On the nose: Surprisingly fruit-forward despite the amount of time this spent in new oak. There’s also no ethanol prickliness on the nose despite the ABV. I get medium, lasting, and alternating aromas of fresh peaches, nectarines, grapple, bell peppers, cigar tobacco, and rancio in the form of dried mushrooms and tannins. In between and after are subtle aromas of dried apricots, honey, sultanas, vanilla pods and strawberries.
In the mouth: A walloping welcome of tannins and rancio. The rancio I get is like dried mushrooms and cinnamon powder. After that more fruity notes come out. I taste light, lasting and round notes of strawberries, fresh peaches, nectarines, grapple, cigar tobacco, and yellow bell peppers.
I’ve never had Armagnac from this particular Domaine. It’s also the first time I’ve had Armagnac this old aged in new oak. An example of an older one I’ve had is Darroze’s 50 year, but it was very fruity with a lot less oak.
This one surprised me with how balanced it was. Because Armagnac is distilled in traditional column stills, like most bourbon, I was expecting the wood to be more dominant, but there’s a pretty good interchanging of oak and distillate flavor here. Aside from that, nothing else really wows me.
I’m curious if all the bottlings by this Domaine are all oak heavy, or if this is an unusual case because it was chosen by L’Encantanda. I’d love to taste something from Lous Mouracs that’s aged in more used up barrels so I can taste their distillery DNA better.
Image courtesy of PM Spirits.