Armagnac Gelas produces some unique armagnacs: in addition to the standard blends and vintage bottlings, they also produce single-varietal bottlings (and were the first brand to do so back in the 1950s) and armagnacs with barrel finishes.
Our host for the visit was Philippe Gelas, a descendant of the brand founder. Like many armagnac houses, they do not own vineyards (actually his brother does, but they buy it from him) and do not distill themselves, but purchase eau de vie and age and blend it.
Philippe says that different grapes used in armagnac grow best in different soils:
- Ugni Blanc and Colombard grow better in chalky/clay soils
- Folle Blanche and Baco grow better in sandy soils
Gelas has only been using Colombard for the past five years. It's not ready to be launched in their single-varietal line yet however.
They purchase from four suppliers, one of which is Philippe's brother. Though they don't distill, the warehouse (as usual, tucked around the corner from the office building) has a square column still on display that was built by Philippe's grandfather. He says it was built specifically to reduce the heady heaviness in distillation of armagnac.
When having wine distilled, they distill Ugni Blanc and Colombard to 60% ABV, and Baco and Folle Blanche lower to 54-56%. Philippe says you get more finesse out of Ugni Blanc this way.
Unlike many producers who call for a heavy toast, they have their barrels prepared with a medium toast.
We then popped to the tasting area - a little corner of a souvenir shop- and tasted a ton of armagnac. Here are some quick and probably useless notes:
- Seleccion - a young Ugni Blanc/Baco blend meant for cocktails. Philippe told us this one (only) has a tiny bit of sugar added to it. None of the others have any added sugar or color.
- 8 Year - Ugni Blanc/Baco blend 40% ABV. I liked this one better for cocktails; it could substitute for aged rum quite nicely
- 18 year Folle Blanche - 44.8% Spicy, thinnish, grapey
- 25 year Ugnic Blanc - 48.8% Delicious, rancio, peppery jalapeno
- 50 year Baco - 40% Smells like bread and butter, tastes dry and woody with mushrooms
- 11 year armagnac finished for 1 year in Lustao Oloroso sherry barrel - 54% ABV surprising and sweet
- 18 year armagnac finished in a port barrel - interesting ginger spice comes in
- 1943 vintage - Delicious rootbeer spice