Few consumers are aware that Cognac and Armagnac are distilled from wine, and fewer still would drink the wine used to make either of them. Ugni Blanc and Folle Blanche are not household names in the U.S. for good reason: those varieties tend to produce wine that is thin, harsh and overly acidic. Then again, it depends on who’s making it.
Domaine du Tariquet is rarer than a unicorn: an estate in Bas-Armagnac that makes spirits, but also bottles exceptional wine. The property is a third-generation estate founded in 1912. Over the years they have broken most of the region’s rules, becoming the first winery to plant Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc (in fact, their motto is “In Praise of Disobedience”). They are one of the few properties outside Alsace that produces no red wine at all. Yet the best of their wines come from grape varieties as native to the area as duck, goose, ham or sausage.
Their Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are crisp and delightful, but the workhorse is the Domaine du Tariquet Classic. The nose of the 2015 ($10) is rich and forward, exuding aromas of stone fruits, honey and apricot jam. In the mouth, the wine is completely dry, with a complex mid palate: ripe and tart at the same time, meaty yet bracing, with a solid core of citrus and minerals. The long, mouthwatering finish carries hints of melon and spice. Because of the texture, this would be a good match with poultry, veal or pork in addition to fish and shellfish.
At the other end of the spectrum is the Premiere Grives, named for the first thrushes of the season that arrive in Gascony along with the onset of late autumn. It is made primarily from Gros Manseng, a variety usually used for sweet wine production. The nose of the 2015 ($16) reveals whiffs of ripe melon. The wine is ripe and lush on entry, with a mouth feel that mixes a tantalizing off-dry texture and sparkling acidity. Flavors of peaches, apricots and almonds build toward a long and succulent finish. The producer is quick to recommend foie gras as a food pairing, and that would certainly work, but smoked fish and aggressively seasoned cuisines such as Thai, Szechuan or Mexican would be a good match as well. If you like Moscato, you’ll love Premiere Grives.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012) and Moonshine Nation (Lyons Press, 2014); his first novel, Friend of the Devil, is now available from Black Opal Books. For more information, go to amazon.com