Armagnac: Darroze at Random

Random Armagnacs by one of the game’s biggest and most respected players, Darroze. In fact, together with L’Encantada, Darroze is probably THE bottler of Armagnac. Working closely together with many small and medium sized domaines, they almost always guarantee a very high level of quality. Todays Domaines are all one-offs in our sample library, hence the term “at Random”.
The story of Darroze starts with Jean Darroze and his restaurant in Villeneuve-de-Marsan, who, as the story goes, was a highly respected chef of the local Landaise cuisince. Anyway, he introduced his son Francis not only to excellent food, but also good wines and Eaux-de-vie from the Gascogne. It was seemingly natural that Francis Darroze developed a love affair for individual domaine Armagnacs by travalling Bas-Armagnac looking for those hidden gems. The first bottlings date back to the 1950s and 60s, but cellar ageing wasn’t introduced until the 1970s. In 1996, his son Marc, a trained oenologist, joined his father in his treasure hunt and now runs the company all by himself.
Before we start with the truly interesting ones, let’s have two standards, i.e. blends, first.

Darroze 20 ans (43%): Honestly, I have no clue why we are even bothering with these standard blends but with a new spirit (for us, and relatively speaking), I’ve figured, why not!? It is always good to start at the base! Nose: Not bad at all! There are lots and lots of oranges, hints of cloves, other related citrus fruits (think tangerine or grapefruit), dragon fruit, grapes (really!?) and herbs such as coriander or dill. Then a heavy woody note, coffee and cocoa. So far, so good (so what?). Palate: Not as lovely as the nose anymore if you ask me, as the fruity notes are almost gone and we are dealing with a woody set of spices, dried plums and leather first and foremost. The texture is freaking insane given that this is only 43% though. Flavourwise, it doesn’t have much more to offer though, but let’s not complain, this is still way more than solid. Finish: Relatively short with dried fruits, some sweeter notes and wood again. Here and there the oranges pop up again. As I’ve said, it is a good product, just not what we are looking for. It does make you understand however, that 43% can be ample sufficent however. (81/100)

Darroze 40 ans (43%): Another “standard” blend. Nose: Deep, rich, yet not overly complex with oranges and orange peel, cloves, cinnamon, hay, green apples, floral notes and lemon custard. With more time in the glass we get more nuanced lighter and fruity notes such as tangerine, daisies and clearly also soap. In the nose, this seems to be a good, easy sipper but let’s take a sip before jumping to early conclusions. Even at 40 years, this seems a little too thin and watery to me – you can clearly notice the dilution. Its not as light, fresh and fruity as the nose anymore though, as the spices from the nose are now joined by bitter oranges, plums, multi grain bread, rye, leather and a few nuts which are hard to pin down. Unfortunately, we’ve lost a few of those rather interesting facets from the nose and get something that is more bitter than we think it should be. Finish: Medium long with bitter walnuts, orange peel, oak and spices. Nothing special happening here. I don’t know why but I get the feeling that they only used the “best of the rest” here, i.e. Armagnacs that were not good enough for individual bottlings but who are we to judge – maybe the blend has a deeper idea that we just do not get or the profile simply doesn’t match our personal palate. (82/100)

Darroze Paguy 2005 16YO (50%): In the world of Armagnac, 16 years are considered young, I belief. I don’t know anything about the domaine but I have heard fairly good things. Nose: Relatively Rummy with esters, a mix of nuts, French cheese, foul fruits and young wood. Quite good. Not very Armagnac-y if you want, but quite nice nevertheless! It has some rough similarities with Common Clean or Plummer Jamaicans such as Long Pond or Appleton produce(d) them. Palate: Fruity with only a hint grapes, strawberry, hay, honey, greek yoghurt and crème brûlée. This is where we are clearly starting to deviate from our beloved Rums, but that’s no problem of course. After all, we are looking for an Armagnac, not a Rum. Finish: Medium long and dry with lots of wood and a few spices. A rather wild but certainly interesting one. Closer to Appleton than to Long Pond now. The nose was very cool but the palate cannot keep up. But we do like it! (81/100)

Darroze Pouteou 2000 21YO (50%): Nose: Quite thick with glue, gunpowder tea, hints of sulphur, lots of wood and boot polish as well as some herbal notes. Very straightforward and very solid. Palate: The palate is really different, almost thin, a tad too bitter but also comes with a few sweeter notes that remind me of a fortified wine barrel. Then white cream, boot polish and a few nuts. Again, rather interesting, but it doesn’t suit my personal palate. Something’s just odd here. Finish: Long with sulphur, wood and and some of that boot polish once again. Well, it isn’t terrible, but it will never become a favorite. What is more, it leaves absolutely no lasting impressions, which is never a good thing. (74/100)

Darroze Domaine de Rieston 1997 24YO (49%): Nose: Wow, what is this!? Initially I get French Brie (didn’t we mention something like that before!?) and foul banana but this one is constantly changing, evolving to ultra fruity notes (cherries, apricot and whatnot) as well as nutty notes (almonds) and pastry. Amazing stuff, really! Palate: Apricot, peaches and related stone fruits, slightly bitter wood and black tea, some of the nuts but still mostly almonds, non-sweet pastry and more fruity notes are my associations here. That definitely works for us! Finish: Long with the fruits and some wood, but a little step down from the magnificent palate. The first really convincing Yak of the session and definitely a domaine we will check out again, if we get the chance. (87/100)

Darroze Domaine de Salié 1996 25YO (49%): Another one that I have heard good things about before, but also a domaine I didn’t encounter so far. Nose: Wheat and wheated Bourbon are my first impression but this is ultra strange. Raisins and vegetal notes are other notes I am picking up. I am really not sure what we should make out of this though. Just weird and frankly, not very good if you ask me. Palate: Way more straightforward and standard if you will. Some grapes, hay, wood, glue but nothing spectacular. It extremely simplistic and one-dimensional. Finish: Medium long with wood, floral notes (where do these come from all of a sudden!?) and some spices from the cask. All in all it is a nice, yet ultra dull one. Not sure what the “hype” was all about. (78/100)

Darroze Domaine de Martin 1991 30YO (49%): I am actually not sure if Domaine de Martin is still producing grapes for the production of Armagnac and the official info by Darroze seems to indicate that it is not. It says that the domaine has been led by Guy Deyres, who worked in the Bas Armagnac region for almost 40 years before passing on his knowledge to his son Jean-Luc, the current owner of Domaine de Rieston. The domaine is known for its sandy soils and baco grapes. Nose: Holy banana(s)! Worthy Park anyone!? This is really great, with all sorts of bananas in its many forms of processing! Then different oils, esters, glue, some herbs and now more and more fruits. After a while also different sorts of wood, some bitters and pastry. Magnificent! Palate: Grapes and wood start the experience, followed by banana and plantains (also a form of banana after all), sweet potatoes, sugar and caramel, honey, sweet pineapple and herbs. We’re definitely in familiar territory here and it is better than most Worthy Park, for what it is worth. But heck, this is thirty years old. Who knows how good Worthy Park would be at that age!? Finish: Honey-dipped bananas, dark chocolate and wood. I love it, great stuff! (89/100)

Darroze Domaine de Betruc 1986 27YO (44,6%): No image for this one. We’re dealing with a mix of Ugni Blanc and Baco here by the way. Nose: Incredibly grapey and fresh. There isn’t much wood, even after 27 years in the cask. Typically we aren’t big fans of those grape-heavy Armagnacs but this reminds us so much of kid’s grape juice, it is not even funny. There’s not a whole lot more besides a few sour cherries, wood or leather here and there but this is quite something! Palate: We are starting to deviate from the grape juice and move closer towards Armagnac; good! Heavy red grapes, cheap red wine, sour cherries, wood, vines and now clearly plums and plum juice. Going back to the nose, I can also find the latter here, it is too obvious now. Finish: More of the same with red grapes and red wine, wood, slightly bitter notes (oak) and the hints of cherries and plums again. An Armagnac for the wine lovers out there! Sometimes we do count ourselves among them as well, but we are still spirit nerds at heart. But for a change, we do not mind this. (82/100)

Darroze Domaine Le Tuc 1978 43YO (48,5%): A domaine I basically don’t know anything about and there doesn’t seem to be much out there regarding both, information about the domaine and bottlings. This has been distilled at 60% by the way, which is extremely high for Armagnac. Nose: Kinda salty like soy sauce or salt crystals (yeah, yeah, you cannot smell that…), perhaps even bacon or ham. Very odd I must say. Then a mix of dried fruits such as plums, raisins dates or cranberries. Interesting, but not my favorite nose. Palate: Very sweet with a profile that resembles a very dry Sherry. I get plums, rich syrup / dark honey, fruit jam, some wood, oranges, a whiff of ginger, cascara, cherries, caramelized butter now and even raspberries. Crazy stuff, and I am not sure if I should love it, or just like it. Then the salty notes again. Oh my… Finish: Medium long with many of the sweeter notes we’ve had, once again closer to Sherry. Then the salty notes again, however. Very sweet and highly drinkable stuff. The kind of spirit where you finish the bottle much quicker than you realize, without really going through something extraordinary though. (87/100)