We don’t see an enormous amount of Armagnac on these shores, which is frankly a shame. It is a very different product from the more ubiquitous Cognac; for starters it is seldom sweetened, nor is caramel added for colour. This comes from very long ageing in barrel. The spirit is distilled in a still known as an Alambic, only once, as opposed to the double distillation Cognac undergoes. What it may potentially lose in refinement through just a single distillation, it makes up for in character and flavour, qualities which continue to shine through after decades spent maturing in old oak barrels, as some of the famously fiery qualities of Armagnac are brought under control.
The Gelas family can trace its roots back to 1246 but it really wasn’t until the middle of the 19th Century that the family name was tied to Gascony’s Armagnac trade when Baptiste Gelas established Maison Gelas and moved into the premises in Vic Fezensac, still occupied by the firm today. Over the intervening years the Gelas family has patiently produced its own house Armagnacs from estate grown grapes, as well as buying up production from small Domaines to be aged and bottled at the Gelas cellars. Over the years they have proved an excellent nose for top producers.
Four generations later, Philippe Gelas continues to maintain the business making and selling some of Bas-Armagnac and La Tanareze’s finest bottles. Philippe’s father Pierre took the revolutionary step to offer single Domaine Armagnacs at their natural alcoholic strength, without having been watered down to the classic 40% that Armagnac is traditionally offered at. Many of these rare ‘cask strength’ Armagnacs are in our offer, some stretching back as far as 1962. For the first 50 years of their lives the distilled sprit lives in old oak barrels, after which they are transferred to demi-john until the time comes to be bottled.
A note on varieties:
Baco : Created in 1898 by François Baco, teacher and imminent herbalist at Bélus village in the Landes area, this is the only hybrid type of vine used for a production of controlled designation of origin (AOC). It is expressed perfectly on sandy grounds and it is the top vine for the ageing of Armagnac. It accounts for 20% of vineyards at Gelas, who are considered the top specialists of the Baco grape. Maturation is slow, but with long barrel ageing the Armagnacs produced are some of the richest, most full bodied and complex of all.
Folle Blanche : One of the oldest varieties in the Cognac and Armagnac regions. It is not hugely productive and requires a great deal of care and treatment, and was almost entirely wiped out by phylloxera. Black rot is a particular threat and as a result it is planted less nowadays. The Armagnacs it produces are some of the finest and most floral of all. It accounts for just 4% of the vineyard plantings.
Ugni Blanc : comes from Italy where it goes by the name of « Trebbiano ». Being high acid, relatively disease resistant and a good friend to the oak spice barrels can impart, it makes for a very dependable grape, but not one with the character of florality of Baco or Folle Blanche. It is thus an excellent grape for blending. It is the predominant grape in Cognac.