The gently rolling hills of Gascony have been growing grapes for Armagnac for centuries – even longer than Cognac. The Castarède family settled in the Bas-Armagnac area in 1832, and is the oldest shipper or négociant in Armagnac for over five generations. Twenty-five years ago the Castarèdes purchased the Château de Maniban, an estate in Mauléon in the heart of Bas-Armagnac that dates back to the 16th century. The present owner, Florence Castarède, is a veteran traveler who has done much to promote Armagnac on world markets.
In all fine wine districts, every vintage is different, and every vintage is a unique expression of the weather during the growing season. In most major Armagnac firms, vintages are used only for blending, and are sold via indications of age, such as Three Stars, VSOP, Napoléon, and XO. While Château de Maniban also comes in these basic grades, the Castarèdes have steadily been setting aside older vintages to age in cask, allowing the spirits to ripen and grow more fragrant. Currently their collection dates back to the year 1893, with many outstanding vintages in between.
Château de Maniban now has over 49 acres of vineyard, planted only in three varieties: Picpoul (Folle Blanche), for freshness and fullness; Ugni Blanc, to facilitate distillation, and Colombard, to balance out the flavor of the first two. Unlike Cognac and Calvados, Armagnac employs the process of continuous distillation, which makes for a more consistent product.
These noble spirits are delectably scented, bracingly dry and have tremendous power and length. Even the basic grades show fine breeding, which tends to increase as they age. Castarède Armagnacs can be found at leading restaurants and retails shops all over the world, and the firm is now one of the most successful exporters of authentic vintage-dated Armagnac.