Armagnac Laballe, Aurian, Castarède, Hontambère

Armagnac Laballe, Aurian, Castarède, Hontambère

We start this armagnac session with Domaine de Laballe 1991, a name we hadn’t seen before. This is release no. 4 in the Journal des Kirsch series, of which I already reviewed the first three releases.

After that we’ll have two Aurian bottlings: Aurian 1977 in the Armagnac Sponge series and Aurian 1983 bottled by Maltbarn last year. Last but not least: the latest releases from Grape of the Art.

By the way, the second Armagnac Festival is coming up April 13th in Stuttgart. This event is organised by Grape of the Art and Expect a lot of familiar exhibitors like L’Encantada, Danis, Castarède, Aurian, Hontambère, Séailles, Swell de Spirits, Malternative Belgium and many more…


Armagnac Laballe 1991 (45,2%, Journal des Kirsch 2023, Edition 4, 136 btl.)

Nose: interesting profile. On the one hand we have bright fruits (yellow plums, gooseberries and Mosel vineyeard peach) but on the other hand also nice stone dust and old books. Reminds me of young cognac. Then vanilla and varnished oak, as well as some mossy hints.

Mouth: again pleasantly different from other armagnacs from independent bottlers. Metallic notes and salty nuts, mixed with passion fruits and guava. Then some drying minerality again, as well as tight rummy notes. Hints of bitter coffee in the end.

Finish: quite long, on tart fruits, minerals and leather.

A nicely different selection, well done. Bright fruity notes and minerals as well as a nice austerity. Sold out, I’m afraid.



Armagnac Aurian 45 yo 1977 (45,2%, Decadent Drinks 2024, 156 btl.)

Aurian 1977 armagnac - Decadent Drinks Nose: lovely waxed furniture, varnish and brass polish, stewed figs and prunes, blackberry jam and tinned apricots. Then herbal honey, chestnuts, pine wood and minty freshness. Old leather and spice mix too. Very seductive.

Mouth: plenty of cigar boxes and cigar leaves, orange peels, pine needles and herbal tea. Rancio bomb. Then dark caramel, pepper and clove. Later some roasted nuts, coffee beans and nutmeg. Fir sap and heavy liquorice. Gets quite dry at times, but there’s a minty touch and acidity that keep it fresh.

Finish: very long, on pine wood, with over-infused tea, resinous notes.

The total opposite of Laballe 1991. This is really similar to the Aurian 1979 we had a while ago: highly aromatic and rich, but also very wood-driven so probably not for everyone. Still available from Decadent Drinks or The Whisky Exchange for instance. Score: 87/100



Armagnac Aurian 40 yo 1983 (48,6%, Maltbarn 2023, Bonbonne #1)

Armagnac Aurian 1983 - Maltbarn Nose: a similar aromatic vibrancy, despite the lighter style, with lots of varnished notes as well as more floral notes this time. Fruits as well: green apples, orange peels and whiffs of raspberry. Then dried wildflowers, hints of tobacco, mint and lightly toasted oak, or maybe sandalwood. We’re really close to the elegance of cognac here, despite the lightly meaty / rubbery note in the background.

Mouth: indeed, this could have been a (much younger) cognac if not for the slightly rougher / spicy side. Oranges (bordering blood orange) and apples, tobacco again and hints of roasting coffee beans. Later even a hint of umami (miso). Acacia wood, mixed with menthol and plenty of aniseed after a while.

Finish: long, with a citrusy sourness, woody notes, hints of herbal tea and rancio.

This is becoming a very wide session with an array of different profiles. There is an cognac-like side to this Aurian, but also a more rustic structure and hints of umami. Interesting. Some will prefer the wild woody aromatics of the 1977 but I think this complex profile has its merits too. Score: 88/100



Armagnac Castarède 36 yo 1986 (53,4%, Grape of the Art 2024, 246 btl.)

Armagnac Castarède 1986 - Grape of the Art Nose: slightly closed at first, with toasted oak and brown sugar sweetness. After a while it opens up, gradually becoming the fruitiest armagnac in this session. Stewed mango, pineapple and peaches, with whiffs of jasmine and spearmint. Light hints of damp cellar, as well as a touch of glue. This could easily be mistaken for a cognac again.

Mouth: very rich. The fruits are still there (apricot jam, oranges, pink grapefruit) with a creaminess of almond syrup and vanilla ice. Hints of latte. Then some liquorice, aniseed and drops of herbal bitters add depth. Cinnamon too.

Finish: quite long, bringing more wood spice to the table. Ginger, clove, with more bitter notes in the end.

This started fruity and floral, in a very elegant way. On the palate it doesn’t meet these expectations. The wood sets in, adding a bitter side and losing a point along the way. Overall a very good mix though. Score: 89/100



Armagnac Hontambère 39 yo 1983 (54,2%, Grape of the Art 2024, 249 btl.)

Armagnac Hontambère 1983 - Grape of the Art Nose: back to the aromatics of the Aurian 1977. That means a lot of polished floors and whiffs of glue. Then tobacco, with cinnamon, quinces and black cherries underneath. Also caramelized walnuts, cocoa and fig paste. Even a whiff of smoke.

Mouth: woody sourness, plenty of herbal notes, tobacco leaves and a dryness that attacks your mouth like a Turkish coffee. Hints of black cherries, but overtaken by winey tannins. Really dark chocolate, clove oil, along with lots of leathery notes. Later also menthol, roasted notes and tea-like bitterness towards the end.

Finish: heavily infused tea indeed. Very long, on liquorice, wood and herbal bitters.

Other Hontambère releases reminded me of Enmore rum and this is similar. A really heavy style. One day I find this interesting, the other day it’s really tiring. If you insist, I prefer the Hontambère 1985 by quite a big margin. This will go on sale on April 13th, check Score: 87/100


After queuing this review for publication, I realised I had one more sample lined up, which may not have been released yet. So here you go, a sneak preview…

Domaine d’Espérance was bought by the Count and Countess de Montesquiou-Fezensac d’Artagnan in 1990. It was expanded to a 50-hectares estate.


Armagnac Espérance 2003 (Grape of the Art 2024)

Armagnac Espérance 2003 - Grape of the Art Nose: rich, with some fruits (mainly peaches and candied oranges) but also fresh herbs like tarragon and parsley. Raisins in the background, as well as spicy honey. Ginger, heady florals, peppermint leaves, a little vanilla and fragrant wood. Very different from the old armagnacs, but nice.

Mouth: honey sweetness, peaches and something that reminds me of gewürztraminer, mixing exotic fruits with a firm spicy side. Then lemons and raisins. Strong liquorice, white pepper, cloves and toasted wood. A little curry heat and increasingly herbal notes towards the end. Some raw alcohol and a bit of char too, which brings down the experience a little.

Finish: medium long, with some aniseed and liquorice, a vague sweetness and herbal bitterness.

The alcoholic youth and strong liquorice make this one a little rougher on the palate. It’s not entirely fair to have this after much older expressions, but I’d say it does withstand the competition quite well. Score: 86/100