A recap for those that missed part 1, part 2, and part 3: I'm well versed in the world of bourbon but have absolutely no idea what I am doing when it comes to Armagnac. What follows are some raw notes from Armagnacs I've tried lately. While most of the ones I've tried up to this point were tasted with zero knowledge of backstory or supposed quality, I had actually heard really good things about L’Encantada and was aware some folks I know were involved in selecting the "Lous Pibous" casks.
L’Encantada 1974 42 year “Le Sable” Bas Armagnac, 40.1%
Smells like a really old, super sweet, funky grapey whiskey. Lots of brown sugar and prunes. The taste is a lot more of the same. Old funky burnt caramel, honey, and brown sugar covered raisins. There is some drying wood as well but it's a lot of sweet and purple fruits. I really like that profile personally as I am sweets junkie. My only complaint is with the lowish proof the flavors that are there are a little thin. Rating: B
L'Encantada "Lous Pibous" 1996 20 year Bas Armagnac #188 53.6%
The nose is classic flavors of brown sugar and raisins. It is very sweet forward and packs quite a wallop given the high ABV. The taste is a lot more of the same: honey, sweet brown sugar, raisins, and dark cocoa. There is also some spice bite that I am not sure if is really a spice note or just the ethanol from the high ABV. The first time I had this it really threw me off as I'd never had an Armagnac at this high ABV. Over time it has really grown on me as I know what to expect going in plus I think it has mellowed out a bit as it's been exposed to air in the bottle. It's definitely a bruiser of a dram for an Armagnac but I am a big fan of how intense it is. Rating: A-
L'Encantada "Lous Pibous" 1996 Bas Armagnac 20 year Barrel #187 54.9%
Drinks easy for 57% but flavor-wise it's very impactful with lots of rich grape, wood, and brown sugar. It's a sweet forward sugar coated raisin bomb up front with some spicy tingle on the finish, mostly likely from the highish proof. A classic middle to upper aged Armagnac profile. While not as bold as my memory of the 188, it's still damn good. These high proof older Armagnacs are really something else. Rating: A
L'Encantada "Lous Pibous" Bas Armagnac 1993 23 year Barrel #124 52.5%
Another grapey, woody, sweet, sugar coated raisin bomb. This one doesn't pack quite the wallop of the 187 or 188 and that's not surprising given the proof. While I enjoy these high proof bruisers I actually feel kind of weird about them as I think the proof detracts from them a little bit. To me, this one drinks closer to the easy drinking but super rich and sweet profile I prefer with some weird funky old flavors. Brown sugar, funky old grapes, old wood, and a hefty proof but not so much that you burn your palate. Those notes are there in the 188 and 187 but they are just a tad too hot such that the funkier elements get a little lost. This one is the nicest balance of proof towards weirdo flavors I've found. Simply wonderful. Rating: A / A+
Thoughts: These L'Encantadas are definitely the best Armagnacs I've ever had. As a bourbon guy who has tried some heavily hyped and rare whiskies, I'll go so far as say these up there with the best spirits I've ever tasted. Maybe this just the novelty of a new spirit for me but I find the crave-ability aspect of these off the charts. I find myself thinking about these profiles far more than most bourbons I have on my shelf today.
But now some real talk. I started this adventure because on the surface, Armagnac looked like a market with great values and easier access than the shitstorm that is allocated bourbon these days. Well, so much for that. The three amazing barrels I reviewed here today were all part of some private group picks with only a few bottles making their way to retail at K&L and even then I believe it was only one of the casks. While they were priced at retail well, the secret is out and there's now a secondary fever for them that is approaching the ridiculousness that is allocated bourbon so don't plan on finding these. I have no idea if there will ever be more of them in the future but expect a crazed rat race if that happens. Granted, there are plenty of options other than private L'Encantada casks out there but the other major hinderance I've found is shipping. K&L is largely one of the best sources for great Armagnac but now they no longer ship outside of California. There are a few stores in New York that have some great selections but the list of states they ship to is pretty small and excludes my state. My local distributors do carry a few selections but most things older than 10 years end up retailing nearly double what K&L charges.
Get into Armagnac they said. It will be easy they said. It's cheap they said. Huh, yeah, cool story bro.
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.