Starting our dive into the best Armagnac houses in France, we’ve got to look at Darroze. Its range of vintage bottles (to 1966 here, but going as far back as 1943) and aged bottles of up to 60 years must be recognised as one of the finest collections anywhere.
Armagnac Houses: Darroze
It was Jean Darroze, restaurateur and lover of fine wines and Gascon eaux-de-vie, who first introduced his son Francis to Armagnac.
Cultivating this taste for tradition and authenticity, Francis Darroze mastered the talent for discovering individual estate Armagnacs, and in 1974 began trading the spirit, building the foundations of the business which is today run by his son Marc.
Marc Darroze, like his father before him, sources the finest quality Armagnac from across the region, making Darroze a great place for Grands Bas-Armagnac enthusiasts to discover specially selected treasures and collections.
While Darroze began simply as merchants, they are now more heavily involved in Armagnac production than ever before, working with both producers and distillers to ensure the final product meets their specific, exacting requirements.
Setting them apart from the competition, Darroze bottles their vintage spirits to order, so each could have a slightly different age and flavour, making each of them unique. The bottling date is meticulously recorded on the label, so the consumer knows exactly what they are drinking.
Darroze vintages aren’t blends, with no sugar, caramel or ageing accelerators. You can tell that in the quality of its Armagnac, with this 2002 vintage offering a distinctive flavour and superb quality.
An initial super sweet hit of candied fruit dissipates very quickly – less than a second – and gives way to a complex blend of spices with dried fruit and orange notes.
That leads to a finish so long that you wonder quite when it’ll end! The silky texture remains, too, making an Armagnac that’s surprising, pleasing and challenging in equal parts.
A confession; there’s something about 1989 that means I can forgive anything from that year. We’ve all got golden memories of years gone by, and that’s my sweet spot, so hopes were high for this vintage.
The golden brown colour hints at the flavours, where caramel comes to the fore, with an initially buttery-smooth, sweet hit that switches to pepper and spice, mixed with some smoke and even coffee. The flavour, however, fades rapidly, with little finish to savour.
Despite that, the liquid caramel hit at the beginning of every mouthful is enough to put this towards the top of my list.
Master of Malt
At 54 years old, you would expect this to be spectacular, and it is. A colleague, Sam, described it as “like drinking silk” which shows just how smooth a drink this Armagnac is.
The nose is intense and complex, with disparate flavours buzzing around. There’s some cocoa in there, a bit of smoke, and maybe some fruits in the mix.
Interestingly, the nose leads directly to corresponding flavours, with the same mix of cocoa, smoke and fruit. It’s all wrapped up in a liquid that’s incredibly smooth and rounded, but doesn’t lack intensity. Just wonderful.