Armagnac Special: The Houses – Castarede and Marquis de Montesquiou

Two of the oldest names in Armagnac, the Castarede and Marquis de Montesquiou houses bring history and tradition to the drink. With specific vintages, blends and flavour profiles, there’s something for everyone here.

Armagnac Houses: Castarede

Castarede is the oldest trading house of Armagnac, registered back in 1832 before France even had a railway. Today, Florence Castarède, a sixth-generation descendant, still pursues her ancestors work in sharing with people the extraordinary family heritage and history and, of course, its Armagnac.

As is befitting the oldest house, and one that has been continually family-owned for nearly 200 years, Castarede has one of the most important collections of Armagnac vintages, the oldest one dating from 1893.

Today, Castarede’s cellar masters ensure continuity of their traditional knowledge; selecting the best productions from the Bas Armagnac, and the vital methods of distillation and ageing. This is put to use across several brand names, including Marquise de Livry, Nismes Delclou (available at Berry Bros on Pall Mall, London) and Chateau de Maniban.

However, it’s the Castarede Armagnacs that attract the most attention. This range is composed of Armagnac’s 100% Folle Blanche grapes from the estate’s vineyard, producing a fine and often floral eau-de-vie with great elegance.

Castarede Bas Armagnac XO 20
Blanco & Gomez
£100

This blend, aged for a minimum of 20 years, has twice won the World’s Best Armagnac award, and we can taste precisely why.

One of the finest Armagnacs – no, one of the finest drinks I’ve ever tasted, the XO 20 has an almost rum-like nose, loaded with sweet fruits and a layer of spices.

It’s wonderfully smooth in the mouth, with butterscotch and oak to the fore and a pleasingly strong taste of ginger on the finish.

Castarede Bas Armagnac 1984
The Whisky Exchange
£70

A silver medal winner at the International Wine and Spirit competition, this vintage from the 1984 harvest has been aged in oak barrels until being bottled in 2018, giving it 34 years of ageing.

The result is an Armagnac with a distinctly woody nose, with vanilla creeping. There’s much more vanilla on the palate, with the flavour seemingly coming in waves aboard a sumptuously soft and silky liquid before a sweet prune finish takes over.

It’s as pleasurable to drink as any others but is unusually, and pleasingly, smooth.

Castarede Bas Armagnac 1979
Blanco & Gomez
£115

Also bottled in 2018, this Armagnac was made from the 1979 vintage before being aged in oak barrels for 39 years. This has given the Armagnac a much fruitier complexion than the 1984 vintage, with a refreshingly tart initial hit followed by sweet spices; think fresh plums followed by pineapple with some cinnamon.

The finish is smooth and fades from fresh spice to a pleasant citrus climax.

Armagnac Houses: Marquis de Montesquiou

Armagnac Houses: Marquis de Montesquiou

The Montesquiou family has been in Gascony since 1040, its members including the famous musketeer, d’Artagnan, musketeer of the King of France. The bottle is gourd-shaped, symbolic of the Montesquiou range, directly referring to this legacy.

The Armagnacs of Montesquiou House are blended from the best eaux-de-vie selected in the Bas Armagnac and La Tenareze, each with differing soil types which add diverse qualities to the Armagnac.

Marquis de Montesquiou Armagnacs are distilled using the traditional method, which leads to an intense, aromatic flavour. These traditional methods combine the expertise of both the winemaker and the master distiller, creating high-quality brandies.

Each Armagnac is a blend of several eaux-de-vie selected from a collection of more than 1,000 casks which, once blended, bring together the unique heritage of the houses. The experience of the cellar master, coupled with daily tastings of a dozen of eaux-de-vie, allows the adjustment of the blends with precision and skill.

Marquis de Montesquiou Reserve
Amazon.co.uk
£37

Like many Armagnacs, the Marquis de Montesquiou Reserve is matured in local blackened oak casks before being moved to less active casks for the rest of its maturation, the eaux-de-vie and the wood forming a well balanced between maturity and freshness.

The Reserve is a blend, as most are, with at least five years maturation. It’s developed a dark, almost ruby, colour, with a nose that mixes spices with nuts, with a sweet overtone. That sweetness disappears in the mouth, with an intense spice dominating the flavour, with an almost peppery sensation taking over.

It’s a beautifully rounded drink that will make for the perfect winter nightcap.

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Phil Huff

Phil Huff has been writing for national newspapers, magazines, regional titles and countless websites since 2003. Specialising in travel and the automotive world, Phil is happiest when exploring foreign lands in foreign cars.