One of the main features of Pichon Longueville Armagnac is the distillation method which takes place with a wood-fired Alambic SIER from the early 1900’s. Distillation lasts about one week, 24 hours a day, and produces around 15 barrels (casks) of 420 litres each. This heating method is less linear than those obtained by classic gas-fired systems, and allows for distillation that is richer, and provides a more unique personality. Armagnac starts the first three years of aging within barrels (casks) made from native Gascony oak, before then being poured into older casks to prevent over extraction of tannins. This is an important phase, where the spirit transforms from wine into Armagnac. It’s particularly striking to taste an Armagnac following a wine and to realize that it is not at all the same thing. We marvel at the aromatic transformation: wine on the nose reveals white fruit and grassy meadows; while very sour on the palate. Armagnac is, for a little while, red summer fruits with vegetal notes that are extremely varied and confusing, the palate is full, fresh and powerful in spite of the high level of alcohol. It’s rewarding and a great relief after years and years of waiting, of patience, of hope and surprises. The only matter of importance is to ensure that the temperature remains as stable as possible, and that new barrels are securely placed, and labeled (precise variety and cask number).
AGEING AND MATURATION
Ageing of our armagnacs lasts from 3 to 5 years in new Gascony oak barrels, and then for the remaining time until it’s put into bottle, it is transferred into older barrels (those which have already held our older vintages).
With neutral wood tannins, these old barels carry a whole history of flavour and caracter. The armagnac will gain in maturity in the shade of our humid, earth-floored cellar until they are ready to be bottled.
These two successive ageing processes, will define our armagnac’s base character, strength, and typical amber-toffee color. Then we decide to blend or not some barrels of the same vintage depending on their grape variety. We also blend different vintages to produce XO, Hors d’age and other series.
Within the same vintage, some barrels are blended, while others are not, enabling us to offer pure Folles Blanche or pure Baco.
At Briat, both ‘ulling’ and topping up the vintage with water are prohibited, favoring natural aeration within the humid environment. Armagnac does not age in the bottle, but in the barrel hence each bottle is vintage is labeled and bottling dated.