Friday, 7 October 2011

Armagnac Tour - Larressingle (part one)

Our long awaited tour started with a rather medicore breakfast at Gatwick airport. Our stomachs could not possibly have imagined the gastronomic delights which were awaiting us the on the other side of the channel.
Two representatives from Bibendum Spirits, one from Bibendum Wine, and a further four from Hotel du Vin / MalMaison arrived in Gascony, the home of Armagnac, around lunch time, and were ushered to a rather delightful restaurant just by the river Gers.
To get in the spirit (no pun intended) of things, I decided to begin with La Cassolette d'Escargots, follwed by L'Entrecote de Boeuf, and finish things off with La Panna Cotta a la Vanille. A truly wonderful meal.
Fully refreshed from our flight, we made our way the short distance to our first distillery of the day: Larressingle.

It is here that Larressingle Armagnacs are produced, aged and bottled.
Our tour provided me (the self confessed distillation geek of the group) to get to grips with the finer points of Armagnac distiallation. On the assumption that most of you aren't as geeky as me, I will save these for my personal amusement (but feel free to email me with any questions!).

Most impressive though, for me at least, was the efficiency of these anciet stills. The traditional copper Aramgnac still behind me in this picture is capable of turning out a litre per minute, and it's only half the size of the ones they have in operation now.

Walking through the cellars was a stark contrast to the temperatures outside. Having just come indoors from a courtyard filled with white gravel, reflecting the glare of a 30c sun, it almost felt chilly walking amongst the Monlezun casks.

Finally - it was time to taste! They really spoilt us to be honest, bringing out a full range for us to try, including the Blanche, VS, VSOP, XO, Tenareze 21yr and a 1967 vintage.
With so many to get through, I'm afraid my pen simply couldn't keep up with the tasting notes, so you'll have to make do with my extremely edited highlights.
My two favourites (predicatably) were the 21yr and the '67.

The 21 year old Tenareze was a rich, bold armagnac with a robust, full bodied mouthfeel. A smooth, honeyed sweetness greeted the palatte, and faded through to a dark chocolate finish. Superbly integrated alcohol sat in the background without overpowering the fruit, and added an excellent depth to the flavour.

Simply looking at the 1967 vintage was enough to indicate that we had moved up a notch. With super-model legs, and a deep, luxurious colour, it held and instant appeal. For me, this was a high ester style of armagnac, almost reminiscient of Jamaiican pot stilled rum. Almonds and caramalised orange peel were abundant on the palate. No matter how long I do this job, it never ceases to amaze me how something so old can still taste do fresh!
With the tasting done, it was time to hit the road, heading to our next stop: Samalens.
But there was one more little surprise along the way... Did I mention that Larressingle has a castle?!

On to part two!

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