Spirits / Armagnac / Château de Briat
|Charles Neal Selections||
ChÂteau de Briat
Charles Neal Selections © 2018
|Charles Neal Selections||
ChÂteau de Briat
The Château de Briat has a long and impressive history. Built in 1540, it first served as the hunting manor for Queen Jeanne d'Albret. The Queen's son, Henri de Navarre—later Henri IV, King of France—often stayed in the castle. In 1587, he gave it to one of his fellow officers as a reward for saving his life in battle.
video: Oscar Beckmann and Michael Housewright
After changing ownership several times, the domaine was taken over by Baron Raoul de Pichon-Longueville in 1864. The Pichon-Longueville family already owned the famous vineyard of the same name in Pauillac. The family used the estate as a country retreat while continuing the château's tradition of distilling a percentage of the harvest every year and stocking Armagnac.
The de Luze Era Begins
When the Château de Pichon-Longueville property in Bordeaux was sold, Château de Briat was retained by Baron Raoul de Pichon-Longueville's maternal ancestors, the de Luze family.
Gilles de Luze was an editor at the Larousse editing house in Paris for most of his adult life. He returned to his family's estate in the small Bas-Armagnac town of Mauvezin (population 213) in the early 1990s when his father retired.
The Launch of Cru Légendaires
Later in that decade, de Luze teamed together with four other Armagnac producers—Yves Grassa from Château de Tariquet, Martine Lafitte from Domaine Boingnères, Jean de Boisesson from Château de Lacquy and Pierre Laberdolive (or Armagnac Laberdolive)—and formed the Cru Légendaires. The mission of this consortium was to promote traditional, rare and deluxe cask strength vintage Armagnacs from their independent estates in the Bas-Armagnac.
It was in the atmosphere of 3-star restaurants and fine wine merchants that de Luze thrived. He brought a rare intelligence to the small world of artisan producers, provided a breath of fresh air to Armagnac's governing bureau (the BNIA) and served as an energetic and dignified spokesman for small growers within this humbly regal appellation.
Château de Briat Tasting Notes
With the glass in hand, the Armagnacs of Briat do not let the consumer down. In fact, they epitomize the magical wonders that one can find in a glass of Gascon spirit. As grape blends, barrels and vintage conditions vary, there is no standard that is replicated year after year. What is consistent is tremendous quality: always lots of nose, a rich palate feel, and excellent length.
Château de Briat Bas-Armagnac Hors d'Age NV
75% Bacco, 15% Folle Blanche, 10% Colombard. 44°. 12 years old.
Amber with extremely attractive legs. Supple, elegant texture holds notes of licorice, chocolate, toffee and oak. Excellent value.
Château de Briat Bas-Armagnac Folle Blanche 2004
Folle Blanche makes up the majority of the family's plantings, and especially shines when it comes from their oldest parcel. In the Château de Briat Bas-Armagnac Folle Blanche 2004 they attempt to showcase what this grape can do when acting solo. They succeed and then some in this attempt: it has a a typically savory/spicy Folle Blanche note, along with vanilla, bergamot and fresh caramel. There is something pleasantly floral about it, and it is very well balanced thanks to its tannins and freshness.
Château de Briat Bas-Armagnac 2000
Stéphane has continued the artisanal traditions espoused by his late father, who firmly believed in highlighting the often-overlooked Colombard grape. He also ages each grape separately and prefers not to top up in barrel, promoting air contact in order to craft a less aggressive spirit. The 2000 (bottled in 2018) is a beautiful example of what expertise and patience can produce: Its notes of dried apricot, toffee, vanilla and spice provide perfect balance to its 44% alcohol.
Gone Before his Time
In 2003 tragedy struck when de Luze and his wife died in an automobile crash. He was only 53 years old. The fatal accident took place in the early hours of morning just south of Paris as the de Luzes were returning home from an independent producers salon in Lyon.
Stéphane de Luze Takes the Helm
The de Luzes’ one son, Stéphane, in his early thirties and the 10th generation, suddenly found himself as head of the historic château. Stéphane soon enlisted the help of his cousin Jean de Mareuil. At the château, located between Lagrange and Labastide, the two continued the production techniques perfected by Gilles.
Eight hectares of vines are divided between Folle Blanche (45%), Bacco (38%) and Colombard (17%) and planted on Sables Fauves (iron-rich sand). Unlike many other Armagnac producers, Briat is a firm believer in keeping yields low and is not opposed to cutting fruit to give a final harvest of 60 hl/ha. Colombard is a particular favorite, and the eau de vie is made strictly with this grape.
In 2014, Stéphane and Jean separated their business partnership. Stephane now descends to the property a couple of times a month, overseeing distillation, vineyards and the chateau.
Briat Distillation and Aging
Each varietal is distilled separately to 53°, and all of the 12 barrels aged at the property during a given year see new Limousin wood. After 2 or 3 years, they are transferred to older casks and, apart from an airing once a year, left to rest in the spacious yet primitive chai.
Topping up is not practiced. At Briat, they prefer to let the level fall, promote air contact, and therefore create a spirit that is less aggressive. Assemblage of various grapes takes place after a minimum of 4 years and, at times, not until their 10th birthday.