Review: Armagnacs of Castarede
Castarede isn’t a household name in the U.S., but it actually lays claim to being the oldest Armagnac in existence, dating back to 1832. The house makes the full range of standard expressions, from blanche to XO, as well as various reserve bottlings and single vintage expressions of its spirits — the oldest dating back to 1893.
We didn’t manage to track down anything quite that aged, but we did receive a representative selection of Castarede Armagnacs, including the entirety of the core line and some special bottlings. Let’s dig in.
Armagnac Castarede Blanche – An unaged expression of Armagnac, France’s answer to white whiskey. This eaux de vie is unremarkable, showcasing a doughy aroma that quickly retreats to ethanol and petrol notes. Some modest fruit notes are barely evident on the tongue, which evokes fresh linens before finishing on a clean lemon note, hinting at walnut oil and sweet nougat. Blanche brandy is hardly anyone’s go-to, but a modicum of charm awaits the patient drinker here. 80 proof. B- / $40
Armagnac Castarede VS – At least 3 years old, the essence of the blanche expression is evident here as the lightly aged brandy is still redolent with youth. Floral and petrol notes are present in equal proportions, making for a somewhat brash and harsh attack on the tongue. Fruit attempts to muscle its way through after a time, with hints of golden raisin popping on the finish amidst notes of lavender and dried flowers. 80 proof. B- / $45
Armagnac Castarede VSOP – After 8 years in oak, Castarede is starting to hit its stride. Spice, incense, and cocoa powder notes are evident on the nose, though there’s still plenty of funky petrol and linen character to temper things, along with florals and spice notes. The palate is quite floral but also doughy with nougat notes, fading to a gentle stone fruit character. The finish remains a bit astringent and tight, though it’s definitely more approachable than the rustic VS. 80 proof. B / $53 [BUY IT NOW FROM DRIZLY]
Armagnac Castarede XO – 10 years old (though note that a European-sold XO/Hors d’Age bottling is 20 years old). Still rather light on its feet, with some ethanol on the nose but plenty of floral and incense character, plus a hint of camphor. Growing sweetness slowly builds on the palate, letting a light sheen of crushed raisins and cocoa powder emerge on the finish. On the whole it’s not dramatically different from the VSOP, but it does add a touch of refinement to the proceedings. 80 proof. B+ / $78 [BUY IT NOW FROM DRIZLY]
Armagnac Castarede Reserve de la Famille – This includes a blend of 20, 25, and 30 year old brandies and is bottled at a higher proof. No shortage of flavor here, this is a punchy operator with a toasty, sweet-and-savory nose that evokes both the barrel and some fruity notes of plums, filtered through incense. More of the same on the effusive but approachable palate, which folds in notes of milk chocolate, vanilla, and a hint of honey, all lingering on the lengthy and engaging finish. 94 proof. A- / $100 [BUY IT NOW FROM DRIZLY]
Armagnac Castarede 1991 Vintage – I have precious little information on this vintage Armagnac, including its age before bottling. Whatever the story behind it, it cuts quite a different profile from the rest of the Castarede line, offering a much more focused floral element on the nose — big with lavender and honeysuckle — plus a powerful fruit character on the palate. Here a whole fruit salad of elements come into focus, including peaches, pineapple, apricots, and vanilla custard. More of that engaging chocolate and vanilla character emerge in time for the finish, though they take a supporting role behind the effusive fruit notes that dominate the experience. Lots of fun, and unexpected for Armagnac. 80 proof. A / $87 (500ml)
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