|Together with Patrick Masbatin of the Association of Sommeliers of Paris and Frédéric Lebel, author of the wonderful book The Spirit of Armagnac, they were warmly welcomed at the Bonne Auberge of Mancets by Pepito and Pepita—locally almost legendary characters—with a dinner of Gascon produce and regional wines, which ended with a memorable glass of Armagnac Dartigalongue Croix de Salle 1924, of Pepita's personal collection.
Fréderic Lebel, Joao Pires, Françoise Dartigalongue, Patrick Masbatin and Gérard Basset Sandra Lemaréchal from the BNIA, and Benoît Hillion.
Monday, December 13th
After a good night and a copious breakfast, the participants defied the icy cold (-5°C) to join the BNIA offices in Eauze where Marie-Claude SEGUR, Quality and Sustainable Development Manager of the BNIA, had prepared a detailed master class on Armagnac: the history, the technical aspects, the legislation. This presentation, which ensured them to understand all the subtleties of the region, was followed by a tasting of Armagnacs, to which were invited about ten sommeliers of the best restaurants of the region, among which two Michelin starred from the Gers.
The lunch took place at La Vie en Rose in Eauze, where a meal of great delicacy has been served.
From 3.00 pm, Francis Dèche introduced the Château de Millet's production to the sommeliers. A visit of the winery and a tasting of eaux-de-vie directly from the vats enabled them to discover crude Armagnacs. At 5.00 pm, the winter night fell on the Gers.
Déjeuner à la Table des Cordeliers
At the Cave des Producteurs Réunis, Philippe Layus made the sommeliers climb on the outside vats of the cellar to admire the Pyrénées under the snow. Then came the visit to the stills and the winery, and a wonderful tasting. Gérard Basset rediscovered the orange liqueur he is so fond of. But the day was not finished: at about 6.30 pm, at the Armagnacs Samalens, it is Pierre Samalens who personally welcomes the guests. A visit of the installations preceded the discovery of the new "Singles of Samalens"—to drink as an aperitif—elaborated for more than 10 years, but which sale as from April 2010 revolutionizes the hushed world of the traditional Armagnacs.
The sommeliers finished on a Bas-Armagnac 1900 before having dinner at the foot of the pot-still at the distillery Samalens.
Tuesday, December 14th
Under a bright sun and with a temperature of -8°C, Florence Castarède welcomes the sommeliers for a visit of the Château de Maniban, residence full of history classified as "Historic Monument". During the tasting, she gives them the necessary explanations for the good 'reading' of the Armagnac of Maniban and of the House Castarède, founded in 1832 and first Armagnac merchant recorded on the commercial register, on demand of Baron Haussmann, the then subprefect of Nérac.
In the middle of the morning, the group headed for the Château de Briat. The visit of this hunting lodge built by Jeanne d’Albret, King Henri IV's mother, takes the sommeliers on the footsteps of History. The still smokes in the barn and the smells of the fresh eau-de-vie impress the visitors. A tasting directly from the vats will end on the smoked notes of the Bas-Armagnacs. It will be followed by a lunch during which Armagnacs of the Domaine Boingnères (owner Martine Lafitte) and of the Château de Lacquy (owner Comte Jean-Vianney de Boisséson) will be tasted.
At about 3.00 pm, Maryse Escoubet, from Domaine de Luquet, receives the sommeliers in her shop of the Place Royale in Labastide d'Armagnac, where they will be charmed by the 1977 vintage.
In the middle of the afternoon, in Nogaro, Françoise Dartigalongue, Grande Dame of Armagnac, and her nephew Benoît Hillion, proposed a real journey through history with the visit of the House Dartigalongue's museum, where treasures of documents, accumulated by Françoise's father, are still of use nowadays to numerous historians.
The splendid tasting which followed made the sommeliers travel back until 1843, vintage of the oldest existing eau-de-vie. Moments of great emotions in a warm and friendly atmosphere.
For the evening, Arnaud Lesgourgues had organized the visit of the Château de Laubade's installations, where a surprise awaited Gérard Basset and Joao Pires: their 'enthronement' in the Musketeers of Armagnac Company! A delicious dinner and a quiet and restful night in the Château de Laubade closed this rich day.
Gérard Basset and Joao Pires take the oath to enter the Musketeers
of Armagnac Company
Wednesday, December 15th
The morning begins in Vic-Fezensac, at the Armagnacs Gélas shop, with a wonderful tasting, particularly Armagnacs distilled per grape variety.
At about 11.00 am, the sommeliers are welcomed at the Château du Busca-Maniban by Floriane de Ferron who impresses them a little. But some Armagnacs later, tongues are loosened. The fig notes, particular to the brandies Busca, delight the tasters' palate.
A last and magnificent lunch in Condom, in the gorgeous setting of the Table des Cordeliers, where Eric Sampietro makes his guests discover a creative cuisine, and it is time to travel back to Bordeaux for the end of the journey. On the way, the sommeliers exchange their impressions and unanimously promise to come back to increase their knowledge of Armagnac.
* Bureau National Interprofessionnel de l’Armagnac