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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Time To Get To Know Gascony's Treasure: Armagnac by Philip S. Kampe

                                              Gascony’s Treasure: Armagnac

Imagine finding gold and not being able to sell that gold to the world because you are basically cut off from the rest of the world. Well, the Armagnac community from Gers (Gascony), in southwest France, had that same problem many years ago. Their problem arose, like the gold, from an area that had been cut off from the outside world in such a way that the Armagnac that was produced by well over two hundred, independent distillers had little means of getting their product to the world. There were and are no airports, oceans or large rivers nearby (inland, the Garonne is the closest), no super highways or large train stations that run through Gascony.

For years, Armagnac has the best kept secret of France, while Cognac, with its large houses, such as Remey Martin, Martell, Hennessey and others have provided the access for the worldwide growth and recognition that Armagnac lacks.

The cognac area has airports, large train station and super highways nearby. Cognac is north of Bordeaux and Armagnac is south. They really aren’t too far from each other, but, far enough to make one area, Cognac, overly successful and the other, Armagnac, vying, finally for worldwide attention.

Much of Armagnac’s newly found success must be contributed to the Armagnac Academy, an educational group that travels the world promoting Armagnac. 

I am a recent graduate of the Armagnac Academy and believe in the promotion of Armagnac. I taught my first class about Armagnac and am beginning to suggest to wine shops that they should carry a full range of products from Gascony.

The understanding of Armagnac is quite basic.
The Arabs brought the alembic stills (wood fired copper continuous stills) that produce Armagnac to the world in the 10th century..

The Romans brought the vines.

Armagnac was first developed for its therapeutic qualities-an excuse I use each day when consuming my daily dose. Master Vital Dufour explained in 1310 that ‘the spirit sharpens the mind, preserves youth and delays senility, when taken in moderation.’

In 1410, the Dutch traders exported Armagnac through the port in Bordeaux.
Louis XIV favored Armagnac in Versailles.

In 1441, a treatise described more than 30 medicinal uses of Armagnac. An ‘elixir for life’ recognized medicinal benefits of the wonder drug.

From 1775-1783, Armagnac sold well in the United States because of the war with the British.

By 1818, local Gascon hero, D’Artagnon and the Three Musketeers upheld the rights of Armagnac. Today, Gascons uphold the same spirit of passion and love of life, acknowledging that Armagnac is their DNA.

Today, there are nearly 13,000 acres of grapevines for Armagnac. Only ten varieties of grapes are allowed. The reality, only four grapes account for the overall production.

Armagnac is divided into three specific regions: Bas Armagnac, Tenareze and Haut Armagnac.

Two-thirds of the vineyards are in Bas Armagnac, known for its sandy, loamy soil.
Clay and limestone occupy Tenareze’s demgraphics, where nearly a third of the vines grow.

Haut Armagnac has few vines and produces a very small percentage of Armagnac today.

The four major grape varieties include: Bacco, Folle Blanche, Ugni Blanc and Colombard.

Armaganac spirits are distilled once and are aged at cask strength, about 48% alcohol. Water is not used, like Cognac, to reduce its strength.

Six million bottles of Armagnac are produced a year compared to Cognac’s 180 million bottles. The largest producer of Armagnac produces around 25,000 cases a year, while most of the smaller houses produce 200-300 cases a year.

Single distillation produces a bigger spirit with more weight. Aged in used French oak for up to 25 years, the end result is deeper, richer flavors that are full of depth versus Cognac’s double distillation, added water and smoother finish.

With its 700 year history, Armagnac is France’s oldest eau-du-vie.

VS Armagnac is aged a minimum of 2 years> golden orange in color with a dominate fruit bouquet.

VSOP Armagnac is aged a minimum of 4 years> golden amber in color with candied cooked fruit that dominate the nose.

XO Armagnac is aged a minimum of 6 years> Amber with mahogany highlights and a nose bursting with dried fruit, nuts, figs and prunes.

Hors d’Age is aged a minimum of 10 years> dark chestnut in color with a lengthy spicy finish.

To me, Armagnac is a lot like Scotch Whisky-full of character, complexity and natural flavors that linger on your palate. (Armagnac is normally priced half that of Cognac)

Isn’t it time to sample Armagnac?

                                                      Laubade Vintage 1987
                     Laubade is a fine producer with availability throughout North America
                                                        Laubade XO Armagnac
                                                       Laubade VSOP Armagnac

Philip S. Kampe



Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Is there another Burgundy? The Terroir from Cantina Tramin (Alto Adige) May Qualify?

                 Is there another Burgundy? The Terroir from Cantina Tramin May Qualify?

Italy is such a large country that has so many styles of wine, like food, each province or region or even village or city supports their wine and their often indigenous grapes as their own, often unique, identification.

Recently, on a short tour of the Veneto and the Alto Adige region, I sampled wines that ranged from iconic Amarones in Verona, sparkly Prosecco in Asolo and bold, stuctured Gewürztraminers in Alto Adige.  Within a half days drive, one could argue that the best reds in Italy come from Verona, the best Prosecco’s come from the Asolo area and the best Gewürztraminers come from Alto Adige.

On this wine journey in northern Italy, one vineyard that stood out from the rest, Cantina Tramin, in fairy tale, breathtaking Alto Adige.

Cantina Tramin’s winemaker, with the looks of a movie star-think James Bond-Willi Sturz, has taken on the true voice as the ambassador for Cantina Tramin. He says, 'Gewurztraminer is our Mission.'

Willi Sturz is a very sophisticated winemaker that possesses an exceptional palate, supported solely by the high quality and variety of wines he produces.  Couple that with a diagnostic approach to winemaking, linked with unusual cellar practices.

What would be unusual about his cellar practices? Try storing wine in an abandoned silver mine tucked away in a snow-covered, 6,500 foot mountain. Innovation in aging wine results in palate pleasing wines that have their unique taste-as did the unveiling of Epokale-a wine that we sampled in a specially designed press tasting.

Our group was the first to sample a 2009 Epokale-a week before Decanter magazine, also online, could expose this newly ordained ‘classic cult wine’ to their readership. The silver mine maintains a constant temperature of 52F, with humidity at 90%, perfect for slower aging according to Mr. Sturz.

Cantina Tramin is a co-op that was founded in 1898. Today, there are over 150 members growing numerous varieties on 600+ acres.  

Willi Sturz is their winemaker and is constantly in motion, visiting the growers that supply the grapes for Cantina Tramin, sampling the varietals, checking the soil and doing everything necessary to insure high quality.

If the grapes don’t meet Willi’s standards, they will not be turned into the wine they were intended for.

Northern Italy, where Cantina Tramin is located, is near the Austrian border. The area reminds me of little Switzerland, with Alpine houses, cattle in the fields, sunbursts and romantic mists.

Apple trees are everywhere.

The food in Alto Adige focuses on speck, dumpling soup, beef chops with onion and of course, apple strudel.

Unlike the Italian regions to the south, pasta and tomato sauce have little place in these northern hill towns, the foothills of the Dolomites.

Tramin and the nearby hill towns of Ora, Egna and Montagna  provide the ideal conditions for producing great wines. This small strip-not unlike Burgundy-has been known since BC times for its various soil types, microclimates, sunny slopes and favorable altitude for growing grapes.

Tramin, since the Middle Ages, is and always has been linked to Gewürztraminer. Its herbaceous notes of dried citrus fruit drench the palate with its persistent minerality, creamy spice notes and dominant, yet poised, floral aromas.

Cantina Tramin is the pioneer of Gewürztraminer.

Look for any year-I sampled the exquisite 2015 Sudtirol, Alto Adige DOC Gewürztraminer, Nussbaumer. This is unlike any Gewürztraminer I have ever sampled. It is in a category of its own, totally unlike the floral, sweeter influence of the German versions, but, closer to the Alsatian style, but, much bolder and thought provoking.

Willi Sturz explained that that the grape has been the influential, historical grape of the region for thousands of years. The limestone soil coupled with lower altitudes (below 1,800 feet) create unique palate pleasing qualities.

Gewürztraminer  has evolved in Willi’s lifetime as a combination of two grapes.  After painstakingly replanting the vineyards that once housed the overly productive Schiava grape with the lower yielding Alsatian Gewürztraminer stock, Willi combined the two, one for aroma and the other for structure to insure Cantina Tramin’s stronghold on unique palate euphoria.

Besides the Nussbaumer Gewürztraminer, Cantine Tramin also produces and exports to the U.S. (Winebow is their importer/distributor) Terminum Gewürztraminer, Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay, Moriz Pinot Bianco, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Nero, Gewürztraminer, Lagrein, Unterebner Pinot Grigio and Hexenbichler.

After sampling all of the above varieties, it is hard pick favorites. The price points seem fair, often a bit lower then I would have expected-possibly due to the weakness of the euro? Whatever the case, ask your local wine shop to order a couple of bottles and you will see why I am ‘star struck’ with this winery.

As I eluded to earlier, much like Burgundy, a small strip of land, where Cantina Tramin is located, has captivated the palates of so many through the ages.
Is it the perfect microclimate for growing varietals?
I think so…

For more information on Cantina Tramin, visit

                                                      Winemaker Willi Sturz

                                                           The Alpine Terroir

                                                 Cantina Tramin's Headquarters

Philip S. Kampe