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Marcillac Armagnac

Our Armagnac Roadtrip

A family affair: Marcillac Armagnac

Protecting the diversity of Cognac has been a core mission since the early days of Cognac Expert. Now, with Bonjour Drinks - our very own celebration of French spirits - we aim to do the same for all the wonderful distilled drinks being made in France. But, as we recently took an extensive roadtrip through the Armagnac region, we experienced firsthand the diversity, the authenticity, the sincerity, and the quality offered by many of the region’s producers. For this very reason we’ve made an effort to showcase their great work in the previous domaine profiles we’ve carefully put together.

Now we’re back with another, a producer we’ve known for some time but only truly learned about during a proper visit to the domaine - a visit that left us without words during, after and still to this day. This is the Armagnac Roadtrip stop to Marcillac Armagnac.

To be clear, we’ve known and worked with Marcillac for several years now. This is not our first time featuring them. But in all honesty, we knew the Armagnacs very well but surprisingly we did not know very much about the domaine in which these Armagnacs were made. Once Calliste de Marcillac (the individual behind the Marcillac name) heard we’d be in the region for a first round of visits to learn more about this great spirit, he strongly encouraged us to go visit his uncle.

Consequently, we were given an address, a name, and a phone number - nothing more.

We made the 25 minute drive from our previous visit, in and around the lovely rolling and wooded hills of the region. While the region is rural, our short journey here only seemed to take us deeper in the region, and more removed from sights and sounds of anything resembling a town. At a small sign showing “La Grangerie”, we took a left and ambled down a tree-lined path just wide enough for a car with vines on the right, and a prune orchard on the left.

We parked just past an old eglise and a building structure that appeared to be from a bygone era. We were quickly greeted by Robert and Benedicte (Calliste’s aunt) and we were welcomed into the world of Armagnac Marcillac.

A Family Affair

Marcillac Armagnac is indeed a family affair, not unlike many other small Cognac or Armagnac producers. Calliste de Marcillac is the person who conceived of the idea to create an Armagnac brand to showcase the savoir-faire and exceptional quality Armagnac produced for decades by his uncle Robert in the Tenareze production zone.

Calliste previously spent his summer months at La Grangerie working around the property: labeling the bottle of Floc by hand, planting new vines in the early morning hours, and removing the pits from the Agen prunes, among many other things. He later pursued a career in the luxury goods sector and e-commerce, which brought him a knowledge base that perfectly complements Robert on the product and production side of things.

Robert was born and raised on the small estate, not far from Lannes in the Lot-et-Garonne department of France. His time away from the property was for a few short years during which he studied agriculture and oenology simultaneously in Toulouse. Upon completing his dual studies, he returned to the estate and partnered with his brother to form an agricultural business structure.

At the time there were only 12-13 hectares of vines, but he was keen to develop this culture of the vine amongst other agricultural activities, including a sizable Agen prune orchard.

Robert has been cultivating grapes and producing Armagnac at the estate for decades, bottling a tiny amount of Armagnac and Floc de Gascogne (by the way: easily the best Floc we tasted during our trip) each year under his own domaine name, but this production is very much micro production, most of which never leaves the region or local markets. With Calliste, the idea was to create an Armagnac brand in direct collaboration with his uncle Robert that focused on highlighting the domaine’s production and know-how, a selection of the domaine’s best vintages - all on a very small micro-artisanal scale.

So Calliste is the vision behind the brand and handles marketing and sales, and Robert is the vigneron and cellar master, handling the production side of things. Together as a team they ensure that each Marcillac Armagnac is of the utmost quality and authenticity, to be shared and enjoyed amongst lovers of Armagnac around the world. And Robert's son Ambroise is very much following in his father’s footsteps and will one day carry on with the qualitative and reflective approach to nature, the vineyard, and Armagnac as demonstrated by Robert.

Some history

The domaine at La Grangerie, called Château de la Grangerie, clearly steeped in history, is home to structures dating back over 800 years, including an old monastery, an eglise, and a basse-cour (open-air and closed farm structures) - in addition to the vineyard and prune orchard. These buildings each bear the scars of the tumultuous 16th century, a time marked by numerous religious wars that wrought significant damage throughout the region, particularly in this area not far from the Protestant town of Nérac. Despite the destruction and ongoing conflicts, the resilient monks remained on site at the domaine for two more centuries, partially reconstructing the monastery without fully restoring it to its original glory. Today, the remnants of this era are still visible in the form of old windows, beams, and other architectural elements that give a nod to those past periods.

The domaine has consistently been an agricultural farm, both then and now, with the monks living on site cultivating vineyards around the estate. Over time, the basse court, once integral to the religious complex, was repurposed as a chicken coop. The old eglise has found a new life as a chai for Armagnac - more on that later - complete with its external Roman-style doors. Inside the eglise, at the very back of what is now the aging cellar for Armagnac, a notable feature is the decoration around an old retable on the wall, a relic from the 16th or 17th century, added just after the religious wars. These features collectively narrate the domaine's rich history and resilience through the ages.

The Domaine

In French we would say the domaine grounds is a havre du paix, which in english basically means a haven of peace. Everything the eyes see is bursting with verdant life. There are all sorts of shades of greens, and the noises from the birds, the bees and the vegetation rustling in the winds can put even the most anxious person at ease.

Surrounding the estate are 7 hectares of organically cultivated Pruneau d’Agen (Agen Prunes) trees, their fruit typically harvested towards the end of August or early September, depending on the year's climate. Notably, and unfortunately, in 2021 there was no prune harvest whatsoever as bad -5° C frosts ravaged the area once the fruit had already set, effectively destroying the crop that year.

The estate's agricultural prowess also extends to its vineyards, which span 40 hectares. Of these, 38 hectares are dedicated to producing Cotes de Gascogne wine, the yield of which is delivered to a local cooperative entirely. To be clear, the domaine does not produce and bottle any wine under its own name. However, the remaining 2 hectares of Ugni Blanc are reserved for Armagnac and some Floc de Gascogne, which is entirely produced on the estate under Robert’s watchful eye.

During our visit, we noticed several active bee hives scattered across the domaine tucked up in various corners here and there of the monastery and the eglise. Robert nonchalantly and affectionately observed these bee hives, saying they were extremely positive for the domaine and that they are left undisturbed, recognizing their vital role in pollinating the prune trees and maintaining the biodiversity of the ecosystem.

Robert also made an interesting anecdote about the prune trees: After the harvest of the 7 hectares of Agen prunes, they keep the pits to be used as a heating source during winter months for their home. They make no boastful claims of sustainability of ecological practices; this is just the way it has always been here. Everything oozes sincerity and authenticity.

The beauty of the domaine does indeed take one’s breath away too, with life and vitality evident in every direction one’s eyes look. All of this and we have not even stepped inside the chai yet.

The Chai

The eglise on the estate, remarkably serves as the aging cellar for Armagnac. Of course, we were aware of the eglise since we drove past it upon our arrival, but we had no clue what lied inside or how this eglise was actually used. Stepping inside, we were unexpectedly greeted by a chai, its presence as surprising as it is impressive. We cast glances at each other but without words as we both processed what exactly we just walked into. We’ve visited many chais in the Cognac region and few now in the Armagnac region, and this easily rivals even Tesseron’s renowned crypt-style chai in Cognac for its uniqueness.

The cellar's climate is finely temperate, not too dry, with humidity levels well-controlled by nature. Seasonal temperature variations within the eglise contribute to an ideal environment for a natural alcoholic evaporation. Each year, the Armagnac experiences an approximate 0.5% loss in alcohol by volume and about 3% liquid evaporation, rates that are, however, dependent on the year's specific climatic conditions - so take these numbers with a grain of salt.

Distillation & Oak

The distillation process at the domaine is typical for the region, employing a single continuous distillation method and utilizing a distillateur ambulant, as the estate itself doesn't possess its own alambic. This process runs continuously, 24 hours a day, until complete. However, not every year sees distillation; for instance, 2021 was marked by severe frosts (recall from above the prune harvest was decimated that year), which saw no distillation at all that year. This sensitivity to climatic conditions is also evident in their barrel procurement, and Robert has not purchased new barrels for the past two years due to impacts from various climatic incidents.

The barrels, typically holding 400-420 liters, have a rich history of their own. Previously, the domaine relied on a nearby cooper, who even crafted some barrels from oak trees grown on the estate itself. A few of these barrels are still in use today and can be seen in the cellar. The sourcing then shifted to Tonnellerie de l’Adour, and for the past 5-6 years, the domaine has been working with Tonnellerie Bartholomo. The barrels are characterized by a 'chauffe moyenne' or 'moyenne+', and these specificities, along with other codes, are inscribed directly on the barrels.

Interesting, and not seen anywhere else, some barrels are marked with percentages, like 75% or 30%, indicating the extent to which the interior surface of the barrel staves has been undulated to increase the surface contact between the spirit and the oak. For instance, a barrel marked 30% would have its staves undulated to increase this contact by 30% compared to flat staves. According to Robert, the difference in taste between standard barrels (flat staves) and those with a 30% increase is significant, even massive, but the difference narrows as the percentage increases. “This is very very interesting to taste through these differences, especially when the barrels were relatively new.” says Robert. Over time as the barrels get used, the impact of this undulation of the staves becomes less noticeable.

Robert expresses a deep fascination with oak and its various provenances, such as Gascogne, Vosge, Normande, and Allier, noting the distinctive impact they have on the eau-de-vie. “In terms of aromatic finesse, Allier is really very good.” Robert indicates. This intricate relationship between the eau-de-vie and the oak underscores the complexity of Armagnac production. Robert reflects on the multitude of factors that determine the quality of an Armagnac. “The quality of an Armagnac depends on lots of factors: you have the grapes, the climate, the terroir, the vinification, the distillation, the quality of the barrel, etc. There are an enormous amount of parameters that impact the Armagnac. We are far from mastering everything.” Once again, the humility and sincerity is striking.

The Armagnacs

The surrounding hills, characterized by clay-rich, deep soils, contribute to producing a very aromatic and powerful Armagnac. However, in Tenareze, the Armagnac's initial taste can be quite intense, often requiring some tempering - so either time or blending - to achieve the desired flavor profile.

The vintages 1964, 1970, and 1975 hold a special place in the estate's collection, as they came from Baco vines which the domaine used to work with during that period of time. The vines were grown on sandy soil, soil closer to what one would find in the Landes. These three mature vintages showcase the character of the Baco grape variety and have a mouthfeel more aligned with Armagnacs from sandier soil. They are Armagnacs with a real identity and which nicely complement the Ugni-Blanc Armagnacs aging in the La Grangerie chai under Robert’s watchful eye.

In contrast, the 1995 vintage and the Hors d’Age exclusively come from the Ugni Blanc vines at the estate today, on firmly Tenareze terroir. Interestingly, the Hors d’Age blend contains a tiny portion of the Baco, introducing a subtle hint of spice and robust textured Baco character into the mix.

A commitment to natural processes is evident, as none of their Armagnacs contain coloring, sugar, or any additives. For the vintages, only natural reductions are used, so there is no water added at all. However, a tiny bit of water was added to the Hors d’Age to achieve the bottling strength of 42%.

We tasted through several barrels in the eglise chai, each of which revealed the distinct characteristics of each vintage. The 1996 presents a beautiful, floral nose without being overpowered by oak, standing at 42% ABV. The 2001, also from estate vines and distillation, has a more gourmande nose, where the oak is present yet integrated and supple, at 44% ABV. The 5 Year, devoid of any new oak influence, offers notes reminiscent of eau-de-vie and the alambic, maintaining impeccable fruit integrity, clean dense fruit, and whisky-like notes, without competing oak notes, at 45% ABV. The 3 Year, primarily used for culinary purposes, comes from the estate’s vines and distillation as well, and is noted for its elevated ABV. These vintages are not available in the Marcillac range, but it was interesting to taste through some of these other vintages, among others, to get a better idea of the terroir and the style of Armagnac made at the domaine.

It’s important to emphasize that Calliste together with his uncle Robert select the finest and rarest vintages, aiming for different characters depending on the vintage. Whatever gets selected from the chai will have stand out qualities and will be destined only for Marcillac Armagnac bottlings. You won’t find them under other brand names. And we are pleased to know that there are some promising young vintages in the cellar. They need more time in barrel before they can be considered for bottling, but the future indeed looks bright.

Lastly, a word about packaging. Of course, we won’t disagree that the Armagnac is what matters most, but we cannot help but be impressed by the execution of the packaging presentation, successfully bridging the gap between modernity, clean lines and something resolutely traditional. No heavy hand - understated, elegant. The basquaise bottle and the small cross above the logo winks to the region’s d’Artagnan past. Yet the clean lines of the wooden box, its interior, the logo and color codes give a timeless look. As such, we could see this bottle in an Alexandre Dumas novel, just as we can see it in 2023 on our drinks rack. Cool! On to the Armagnacs…

Marcillac Hors d'Age Armagnac

$ 91
excl. TAX excl. shipping

Reviews (6)

Average rating

Highly Recommended 85 /100
Nose
Mouth
Taste
Finish
Impression

Growth Area: Ténarèze

Armagnac Age: Hors d'Age

ABV: 42%

Blend: 50% 1999 Vintage / 25% 2003 Vintage (Single grape variety Bacco) / 25% 2011 Vintage

Why buy

A great entry into the world of Armagnac. Having an outstanding value for money, this Armagnac offers an expressive and aromatic profile with a distinct personality.

Marcillac Hors d'Age Armagnac

Introducing the Marcillac Armagnac Hors d'Age, a harmonious and approachable blend designed to make Armagnac more accessible without compromising the distinctive character of the Marcillac range and the Tenareze terroir. This unique Armagnac blend combines 50% 1999 vintage for rich aroma and flavor, 25% 2003 vintage single grape variety Bacco for added character, and 25% 2011 vintage for a touch more alcohol, body, and strength. With an average age of 20 years, the youngest vintage is 12 years old, and the oldest is 24.

Armagnac Marcillac Vintage 1970

The Ugni Blanc grapes used for this Armagnac were harvested in 1970 before being pressed and left to ferment naturally. The Armagnac Marcillac 1970 was then distilled the following winter in a continuous alembic still, traditional for this spirit. The vintage of an Armagnac corresponds exclusively to the year of harvest, and although some brands offer wonderful blends between vintages, Marcillac only bottle pure vintages. This particular release has spent decades in oak barrels, and only 500 bottles have been produced.

Armagnac Marcillac Vintage 1970

$ 254
excl. TAX excl. shipping

Armagnac Age: Vintage 1970

ABV: 42%

Bottle Size: 700ml

Why buy

You want to go all-in on an Armagnac of character and depth, but your love of Cognac has taught you to treasure nuance, elegance, and balance. Hands down, the Armagnac Marcillac 1970 is your winner.

Armagnac Marcillac Vintage 1975

$ 234
excl. TAX excl. shipping

Armagnac Age: Vintage 1975

ABV: 42%

Bottle Size: 700ml

Why buy

No messing around, you want to go all-in on a robust Armagnac full of depth and character. The Armagnac Marcillac 1975 fits the bill. And you sherry bomb whisky fans out there: You won’t regret this!

Armagnac Marcillac Vintage 1975

The vintage of an Armagnac corresponds exclusively to the year of harvest and the eau-de-vie is traditionally distilled some time later. On leaving the alembic still, the eau-de-vie is transparent, with an alcohol percentage between 52% and 60%. At this moment, the Armagnac is highly aromatic, with fruity and floral notes; the subsequent maturation in oak casks provides complexity and increasing softness. Harvested in 1975, the grapes used for the Armagnac Marcillac 1975 were pressed and left to ferment naturally. The wines were then distilled the following winter before being put into Gascon oak barrels. This particular release has spent well over 40 years maturing, with only 500 bottles produced at an ABV of 42%.

Armagnac Marcillac Vintage 1995

The Ugni Blanc grapes used for this Armagnac were harvested in the month of October 1964 before being pressed and left to ferment naturally. The Armagnac Marcillac 1964 was then distilled the following winter in a specific continuous alembic still: a vintage pure copper apparatus that was endorsed in 1818 by a stove maker in Auch, Sieur Tuillière, under the reign of King Louis XVIII, and adapted over time by the region’s distillers. With such a history, you know this release will be memorable.

Armagnac Marcillac Vintage 1995

$ 316
excl. TAX excl. shipping

Armagnac Age: Vintage 1964

ABV: 42%

Bottle Size: 700ml

Why buy

You’re curious to explore Armagnac but want a relatively friendly gateway into the spirit. The Armagnac Marcillac 1995 is without a doubt the one for you!

Armagnac Marcillac Vintage 1964

$ 316
excl. TAX excl. shipping

Reviews (10)

Average rating

Exceptional 90 /100
Nose
Mouth
Taste
Finish
Impression

Armagnac Age: Vintage 1964

ABV: 42%

Bottle Size: 700ml

Why buy

What an amazing Vintage from 1964! This Armagnac aged for 55 Years and you can easily call it one of the best releases from this estate.

Armagnac Marcillac Vintage 1964

The Ugni Blanc grapes used for this Armagnac were harvested in the month of October 1964 before being pressed and left to ferment naturally. The Armagnac Marcillac 1964 was then distilled the following winter in a specific continuous alembic still: a vintage pure copper apparatus that was endorsed in 1818 by a stove maker in Auch, Sieur Tuillière, under the reign of King Louis XVIII, and adapted over time by the region’s distillers. With such a history, you know this release will be memorable.

Armagnac Marcillac Vintage 1964: Flawless Maturity

Reviews:

(5/5) Stars By Alain C. on 16 May 2021

OUTSTANDING ARMAGNAC

This Armagnac is highly aromatic, with fruity and floral aroma, complex but soft on the palate.very balanced and smooth finish. An amazing vintage!

(5/5) Stars By Patrick D. on 8 November 2020

A DEFINING MOMENT THAT SWITCHED ME FROM COGNAC TO ARMAGNAC

To be honest, as a Cognac connoisseur, I picked this bottle of Armagnac because its packaging. I love the way its modern wooden casket gradually reveals the ancient mousquetaire's cross as I open it and stage it before serving the precious liquor to my wife and friends. Probably and somewhat unconsciously it signaled the promise that fond memories would spring from the past into my busy life. And that is exactly what I experienced with the glass.

Armagnac is Cognac PLUS: Same wonders coming from the fine alcohol aged in a perfect wooden barrel for so many years, PLUS an incredible richness of flavors and perfumes tracing back to the very grapes and the very soil and the unique year it was harvested from. This shows down through the tears in that bottle...

Discover all Marcillac Vintage Armagnacs

Where is Armagnac made?

Armagnac is also produced in South West France, but in a region known as the Pays de Gascogne. This is found west of the city of Toulouse and extends between the rivers of the Adour and the Garonne, in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains. Although it covers an extensive landscape, there are only around 5,300 hectares of vineyards with grapes destined to distillation, from which around 2.8 million bottles of Armagnac are produced each year. (This is a drop in the ocean compared with more than 220 million bottles of Cognac produced in 2020).

In the same way as the Cognac growth region, that of Armagnac is also divided into different terroirs. These number three (as opposed to Cognac’s six) and are called:

  • Bas-Armagnac
  • Armagnac-Ténarèze
  • Haut-Armagnac

Note: The official order deadlines are over and we can't guarantee that a shipment will arrive in time for the holidays.

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