The ABC of Spirits by Alexandre Vingtier: G for Grand-Bas-Armagnac
B for Grand-Bas-Armagnac
Those who know me know that I particularly enjoy studying the history of spirits from both a technical and a geographical perspective. Here is a very interesting subject of study on the genesis of the vintages of Armagnac. You are obviously familiar with the three sub-names defined in the 1909 appellation decree: Bas-Armagnac, Ténarèze and Haut-Armagnac. But do you know Grand-Bas-Armagnac? it is not a legally delimited vintage but some producers proudly claim it, such as Martine Lafitte from Domaine de Boingnères located in Labastide d’Armagnac. In this commune is also Laberdolive, which has inscribed this mention on some of its old vintages. This is an area between Landes and Gers, also including the communes of Lacquy and its famous castle, which also produces excellent Armagnacs, Frêche and its Domaine de Jouatmaou, Arthez d’Armagnac and its Domaine d’Ognoas, Mauvezin d’Armagnac and the Domaine d’Espérance and the Pichon-Longueville Armagnacs, etc. Names to make the experienced Armagnac lovers salivate. Some critics say that this mention never existed, yet today there is still a canton of the same name, around Nogaro and Cazaubon, in the Gers only.
Historically, we know that the debates were heated for the delimitation of the vintages between 1905 and 1909. Most mayors of the neighbouring municipalities then pleaded for a connection to Bas-Armagnac, undeniably the most famous vintage and known abroad. Official reports of this period also show a clear subdivision of Bas-Armagnac, which was resumed at the end of the 19th century, into “Grand-Bas-Armagnac, which occupies two thirds of the area to the west, Moyens or Fins-Bas-Armagnac, including a strip forming one third of the rest of the area from north to south”, and finally “Petit-Armagnac”, around Nogaro and Manciet. The latter’s eaux-de-vie are described by their prune taste, while the former’s eaux-de-vie have “the taste of faded violet”.
Does Grand-Bas-Armagnac, which has been popular since the 18th century, constantly produce the best eaux-de-vie? Historically this is not the case since the rest of Bas-Armagnac wins both medals and the valorization of its eaux-de-vie over a good part of the 19th century. It is true that this was the time of the introduction of column distillation and new wine-making practices that improved yields. Nevertheless, phylloxera was able to partially reshuffle the cards. Is it a particular terroir of Bas-Armagnac? Apparently yes, since very big names of producers have been associated with it for more than two centuries. Nevertheless, it seems more than natural to me to look for local particularities in this vineyard, the cradle of Armagnac, for all those who are passionate about these great terroirs of Armagnac! This will make you want to explore these fabulous estates and plunge your nose into their vintages.
Don’t drink and drive. Enjoy responsibly.