Saturday, February 13, 2010

Armagnac III - the Labouc family

Madame Labouc

Our first Armagnac visit takes place at the Ferme de Labouc. The farm is very simple but in a beautiful setting with the vines all around. Madame Labouc receives us on the 15th of October and her husband is doing the last harvest day. We see him pass in his blue working clothes. His grandfather’s grandfather founded the farm and now his son has taken over. But mum and dad don't seem to have abandoned work completely yet.

Detail from the farm

We have a marvellous time as she shows us around the farm. They have their own alambic in a barn like building and she explains the whole process of making Armagnac. I don't think I got all the details about the distilling process, but the most important part seem to be the second time around. This is the main difference from cognac. Cognac is distilled once, armagnac twice. This makes the alcohol level go down naturally to about 55 percent. The aromas are better conserved and give a fruitier taste than cognac. The low - comparing - alcohol level makes it unnecessary to dilute with water to reach, after storage, a final alcohol level of 40-43 percent. Cognac is often diluted with water and then colour is added artificially to obtain the beautiful dark colour. Most Armagnac are stored for ten or more years in oak barrels. Part of the alcohol evaporates, which is called the angels part....

Madame Labouc says that wine made from folle blanche is really bad. Undrinkable. But perfect to make Armagnac. We mostly use baco 22A and folle blanche, she says, but ugni blanc and colombard are also very common. The earth here was once covered by the sea and it is the remaining level of salty sea sand that makes our Armagnac so excellent.

We end the visit with a tasting session where we try, among others, an Armagnac form 1964! But I think my favourite was the one from 1983. It feels like an honour to drink these old ones, smooth and round, but still strong after all these years. Seeing the old dusty barrels that are kept for tens and tens of years, a palpable and very much alive tradition....

One of the local specialties is the Floc de Gascogne. It is grape juice mixed with young Armagnac. A perfect summer apéritif, served well chilled, on the rocks or like I just tried, mixed with Schweppes. Another favourite is the plums marinated in Armagnac... we serve them as dessert with vanilla ice cream.

Cocktail with Floc de Gascogne

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