Domaine du Tariquet – Gascony In A Glass

Domaine du Tariquet – Gascony In A Glass
Domaine du Tariquet – Gascony In A Glass         One of the many benefits of cultivating your interest in wine, and even starting your own wine cellar, is that you are able to follow the fortunes of wines and spirits that you have enjoyed. You don’t have to start over every time that you go into a wine store. There will often be some wines that you have previously liked (or been disappointed in). Sometimes you may want to see how a favorite wine compares with other wines from the same region in the same year. That is called a horizontal tasting (not meant literally, unless you overdo it). And sometimes you may wish to see how a vintage of a favorite wine compares with earlier or later vintages of the same wine, a vertical tasting. You could organize a memorable evening, with some fruit and cheeses, with either sort of tasting.           And then again, sometimes you unexpectedly come across a wine or spirit that you have previously enjoyed, that evokes pleasant memories, that you haven’t tasted in a while. That’s why I was pleased to encounter an old friend, Domaine du Tariquet wines, at the recent Washington, D.C. International Wine and Food Exposition. My last visit to the Domaine du Tariquet, in Eauze (Gers),  in Southwest France was in the summer of 1985.           This is scenic, rugged country in the heart of Gascony, off the main tourist routes. The preference here tends to be for large scale meals and flavorful wines, and Gascon hospitality is legendary. D’Artagnon of “The Three Musketeers” is said to be modeled after a real seventeenth century Gascon knight from Eauze.           And so it was with a nice sense of recognition that I saw the familiar Tariquet label, and caught up on the estate’s products with owner Yves Grassa. The first wine I tasted was the familiar white Domaine du Tariquet 2004 vintage, 60% Ugni Blanc and 40% Colombard grapes. If you have already tasted a Domaine du Tariquet wine, this wine, a bargain at $7 retail, is probably the wine that you know. It is refreshing, light and easy drinking. The Domaine du Tariquet, a traditional producer of Armagnac, began diversification with this wine, first made in 1982. Now as then, produced in quantity, it is a good bargain.           I tried some of their more recent wines, and learned more about their broad range of products. A Sauvignon Blanc 2004 (retail $9-10) was pleasant, new and grassy as Sauvignon Blanc tends to be.  It is a distinctive taste, nice for a luncheon wine, but I prefer this grape variety to be blended rather than used alone. That is why a Cote Tariquet 2003 ($11) was such a nice find. It is a blend of 50% Chardonnay and 50% Sauvignon Blanc grapes, which, uniquely, are blended before fermentation.               Now, I am more used to either Bordeaux or Burgundy white wines, and those from Burgundy are produced from Chardonnay grapes, while Bordeaux white wines are usually a blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc grapes. Here we have a reminder that what grows well in one region may need variance in another, for you wouldn’t find in either Bordeaux or Burgundy this mix of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. In this Cote Tariquet, the Chardonnay seems to perform the same function as the Semillon grapes in Bordeaux, adding structure and richness to the fresh Sauvignon Blanc grapes. It doesn’t hurt, either, that this wine is half the price of entry level quality Bordeaux or Burgundy white wines.           The Domaine du Tariquet also now produces some sweeter wines. I enjoyed their “Les Premieres Grives” 2004 ($10.50). “Grives” are thrushes, and the reference is to the first arrival of these birds in late Autumn. The wine, made largely from Gros Manseng grapes, is best enjoyed somewhat chilled, and it would go perfectly as an aperitif, or with foie gras, taking the place of a light Sauterne. It is an elegant wine, full but not overly so. I suspect that their “Dernieres Grives,” harvested later, would be an even fuller wine. The Grassas recommend that this wine be cellared, perhaps as long as a dozen years.           The Domaine du Tariquet’s long and favorable reputation, however, was made by its production, since the late seventeenth century, of the Gascon specialty, Armagnac. Here, we are talking specifically of Bas-Armagnac, centered in Eauze. (I will leave it up to your taste whether Bas-Armagnac is preferable to its two rival Armagnac spirits, Tenareze and Haut Armagnac, which glide into the neighboring departement of Landes. Better have a number of tastings over the winter to be sure.) Here also, a range of spirits is produced.           Their most costly Armagnac is the Legendaire ($60), which refers to the fact that the Domaine du Tariquet has been producing this fine Armagnac since 1683. Next comes the XO ($40), and the VSOP ($25), each carefully aged beyond the minimums required by French law and customs. They also have a series of vintage Armagnacs. Since my visit to the property took place in 1985, Mr. Grassa and I sampled their vintage 1985, made entirely from the Folle Blanche grape. It was fiery but surprisingly smooth, an excellent spirit.          I have found that many wine retailers in the Washington area have a good assortment of cognacs, but their offerings of Armagnac are slim. If that is the case with your own retailer, why not ask that some quality Armagnacs be offered as well. The fine spirits offered by the Domaine du Tariquet would be a good place to start.
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