Review: Armagnacs of Castarede, 2023 Releases
On a busy street in Paris’s 8th Arrondisement, you’ll find the official headquarters of Armagnac Castarede, the oldest Armagnac producer still operating. At the end of my recent Cognac-focused trip to France, I called up the office on a lark, only to find that proprietor Florence Castarede was actually on site and would readily welcome me in that very afternoon.
Castarede’s location is part corporate HQ, part tasting room, part retail shop. Any expression you could ask for is available here, with vintage offerings dating back to the 1960s.
The shop is tiny — as it only sells Castarede products — and Florence took me down to the basement for our tasting and a refresher on what makes Armagnac different from Cognac. The primary difference (and the best-known one) is the type of stills used; Cognac uses pot stills, Armagnac column stills. Castarede’s still was put into production in 1923, the only major difference today being that it is now heated by gas instead of wood.
Another key difference is that while Cognac is almost always blended, many Armagnacs are available as a single vintage product. But what I learned from Florence is that, unlike most spirits, vintage Armagnac stays in the barrel and is bottled almost on demand. When Florence runs out of 1975 Castarede at her shop (or if an order from a retailer or distributor comes in), she calls the distillery and tells them to pull a few more bottles from the casks. This is important, because it means that a 1975 Castarede purchased today will likely be much different than the same vintage purchased even a few years ago. In a few more years, the 1975 will taste different still.
Florence says that 50 to 60 years is about the maximum amount of time she’ll leave an Armagnac in barrel before it starts to get overly woody. At that point, the liquid is placed into glass demijohns, where it’s less susceptible to change — but Florence notes that she does see them continuing to evolve a bit even in this environment. The oldest Armagnac Castarede has still in barrel is from 1962 (which is reviewed below); the oldest in demijohn is from vintage 1893.
With that as prologue, let’s dive into a tasting. Up top I have brief notes from my on-site tasting; more detailed thoughts based on bottles I purchased and brought home follow below.
All expressions are 80 proof.
Armagnac Castarede Blanche (2023) – Unaged Armagnac. I liked this much more than when I first had it in 2021, and we can’t blame that on the barrel, of course. Funky but floral, I found the experience akin to an unaged rum, a bit doughy but with a bright, refreshing finish. Definitely more engaging than my earlier encounter. A- / $42
Armagnac Castarede VS (2023) – At least 3 years old (2 years is the minimum standard for VS). Crisp and elegant, with lots of fruit before fading into a petrol-driven character; this is strictly designed for cooking and cocktailing, as its pungency can be a bit urgent on its own. B / $42
Armagnac Castarede VSOP (2023) – Around 6 years old at present; this modestly aged expression shows off a darker, richer fruit character and a more well-rounded body. Still maturing, to be sure, but perfectly approachable as a solo sipper at this point. A- / $53 [BUY IT NOW FROM THE WHISKY EXCHANGE]
Armagnac Castarede Hors d’Age (2023) – This expression recently replaced the Reserve de la Famille bottling, which was an overproof version of this blend of at least 20-year-old brandies. It’s clearly one of the go-to bottlings from the distillery, offering a sweeter but less fruity experience that makes room for more complexity in the form of nutty almonds, mint, and licorice notes. Still hard to find in the U.S. A- / $73
Armagnac Castarede 1992 Vintage (2023) – All of the vintage samples below spent about 30 years in barrel, says Florence, making these more interesting as a vertical experience. This 1992 is soft and floral, with a punch of licorice and slight tannins. B+ / $101
Armagnac Castarede 1982 Vintage (2023) – Spicier than the 1992, with a toasty, malty character to it. More wood in the mix but far from hoary. B+ / $128
Armagnac Castarede 1972 Vintage (2023) – Weighty with spices, especially cloves. Pruny fruit is dominant, followed by a strong, enduring floral character. My favorite of this vintage lineup. A- / $185
Armagnac Castarede 1962 Vintage (2023) – Surprisingly tame: Linens and prunes lead the charge, but the finish has more than a bit of tannin to it, really gripping the back of the throat. B+ / $258
The following reviews were completed at home, based on retail purchases.
Armagnac Castarede 20 dans d’age (2023) – The next three reviews are based on a miniature box set offered by Castarede, showcasing blends at 20, 30, and 40 years in barrel, providing a different way to do a vertical tasting experience ($117 for a set of three 100ml bottles). Fruity, apple-heavy nose, with lacings of orange blossoms. An initially immersive palate dries up quickly, leading to a finish that feels slightly leathery. Still, for a bright, shining moment it’s a dazzler. B+
Armagnac Castarede 30 dans d’age (2023) – Much more lively on nose and palate, with notes of prune, incense, and a slightly beefy quality lingering underneath. Toasty oak works well on the palate here, integrating with the fruit to infuse it with a rich vanilla note, though the finish is sharp and slightly acidic. For my money, it’s the best Armagnac in this trio. A
Armagnac Castarede 40 dans d’age (2023) – While the nose feels a little brooding, the palate is surprisingly restrained when it comes to wood. There’s still plenty of fruit here, showcased more as fruit leather, raisin, and incense-heavy florals. This brandy comes off as closer to Cognac than anything else in this review, though the finish keeps the pedal down on those classic notes of spiced fruit and perfume, layered on top of raisin bread. A close second to the 30 year old. A
Armagnac Castarede 1971 Vintage (2023) – Bottled in 2021, making this a 50 year old vintage. I bought this to celebrate the birth year of both my wife and I, and it’s proving itself a lovely bottle to celebrate each passing birthday. Sweeter than anything else on this page, the brandy takes a lush character of plum, raisin, and strawberry notes, folding in an aggressive punch of baking spice, lots of vanilla, and milk chocolate. Plenty of oak hangs around throughout, the finish seeing a bit of gritty tannin lingering, though it’s never off-putting or rough. For 50 years of age, this still feels like it has plenty of runway left. A- / $218
If you go:
140 Bd Haussmann, 75008 Paris, France
Open business hours, Monday to Friday. No appointment required to shop, but recommended if you want to taste. Contact information is available on Castarede’s website.
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