We now interrupt your regularly scheduled whisk(e)y review for a discussion of a fanciful flight of Domaine de Charron Armagnacs, all of which are single vintage. This is in sharp contradistinction to many Armagnacs and most Cognacs, which are typically blent by master blenders with an eye towards achieving the Platonic ideal of the Cognac/Armagnac region.
The samples were graciously provided to us—perhaps a little blackmail was involved—by their US importers, Taylor & Taylor Whiskey Company. We were able to taste the core range of the 2020 release, as well as a few ‘single cask’ bottlings, unique to fine local purveyors.
Now, as faithful readers of our ancient-in-internet-years blog know, we typically only review Cognacs or Armagnacs that are at least 150 years old. (If you, dear reader, have any such that are in dire need of tasting, please contact us, asap.) Also, I developed my palate on Cognac and Armagnac, before giving them up in favor of whisky, which was considerably cheaper once upon a time. (It’s the Circle of Life, I reckon: Good Cognacs and Armagnacs are now cheaper than equivalent whiskies.)
The core range of the Domaine de Charron consists of bottles of age 12, 14, 20, and 30 years old. I proposed that we taste them in “Benjamin Button” order, starting with the oldest and moving to the youngest. This is a method memorably shown to us when touring Highland Park. Our guide recommended so doing in order to experience the ultra quiet and stillness of a whisky conferred by aging 40 years, then the 30 year old, then the 25 year old…you get the picture.
As it turned out, as is so often the case, I was an idiot. What I hadn’t counted on is that Domaine de Charron considers a carefully-calibrated woody—tannic—component to be fundamental to their range. This is because, as per T&T, all their barrels are crafted by a fourth-generation cooper using local Gascon oak.
Thus when we began, what I thought would be a subtle evocation of the late 1980s as inscribed into spirit form instead spoke of the Power of the Wood. I was looking for what I considered to be the traditional old Cognac/Armagnac ideal; a balance of fruits and sweets, with caramel piquantly poking and tweaking the wood. Those notes were all there—they were there with varying degrees of intensity in all of the samples—but for me, the balance was off in about half of them.
When I wrote to T&T wondering about the goals of Domaine de Charron, I was gifted with a fascinating disquisition on what Nick Taylor calls “palate transience,” but I prefer to call “receptor deceptor syndrome.” The notion is that receptors can overload, like tactile nerves, and stop transmitting certain flavors. Nick claims he’s going to write it up in the detail it deserves, but for now, you’ll have to make do with the bare bones of the theory, such as they are.
In particular, I found the 12 year old and the 20 year old to be lovely; a marvelous balance of orchard fruit and caramel, frolicking, in frilly frocks, around a beribboned maypole made of Gascon oak. After drinking the younger Charrons, I found, upon huffing and puffing the 30 year old expression, more of the expected sense that wood is a frame or pegboard that the fruits and sweets and rich Rhenish white wine notes hang on. (That Nick: He knows of what he speaks.) Not unexpectedly, we also found that simply allowing each of the Armagnacs to linger in a glass, perhaps with a small drop of water, allowed for a Grand Opening, a long-term exposure that brought out the motion of the stars and the music of the spheres.
In conclusion, the younger Domaine de Charrons should appeal to anyone who likes finely crafted spirits. The older ones, whose methods and goals have been honed over—literally—centuries, are drinks for a sophisticated palate; one that knows what to look for in an older Cognac or Armagnac, and how to best elicit it from the snifter.
–Our thanks to Taylor & Taylor Whiskey Company for the samples–and the photos!