Rebecca Anne Milford decides to fill gaps in her Cognac knowledge by heading to the House of one of the best varieties available – Rémy Martin.
Ah Cognac – it really is wonderful. And when I make this statement, I am embracing both the amber drink and the gorgeous city in the South of France. But while you might know a little about the liquid, it’s also highly likely there are some incorrect assumptions and gaps in your knowledge. So, in the spirit of educating the Business of Everything readers, I took a jaunt to Rémy Martin House in Cognac to find out more…
Location, location, location
When is comes to separating Cognac and Brandy, it essentially comes down to where it’s from. The clue is in the geographical name –only grapes from one of the six zones in the Cognac region can be classed as such. The most respected regions of these six are the Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne – and this is where the grapes used to produce Rémy Martin are grown.
But if you think it’s all down to the grapes, you’d be wrong. One of the most important elements is the terroir – meaning the complete natural environment that influences everything.
This is a key word in the production of Cognac, and one that is mentioned often by our charming host Mae. She explains that the word Terrior means ‘land’. It embodies everything to do with the place where the grapes are grown, and is the essence of this countryside. Each grape is imbued with the wind, the rain, the nutrients from the grounds, and the very air of that region. And the chalk-flecked soil used by Rémy Martin creates the perfect conditions for ripening the grapes.
So what next? It’s all down to the Eau-de-Vie. This ‘water of life’ is created from pressing the grapes so that an acidic white wine is produced, and then leaving this to ferment with native yeast (no sugar here). There is then a double distillation in copper stills, and when this has happened the result is the magical Eau-de-Vie – a clear liquid of about 70% alcohol.
The Rémy Martin Effect
It’s not only the distinctive terroir and the fact the grapes are from the premium areas of Cognac that make Rémy Martin such a smooth sip – we also find out it’s down to the variety of Eau-de-Vie that are used. Mae explains that it is the blending – or ‘marriage’ – that makes all the difference. It enables a complexity that can’t be achieved from just one variety of grape. Obviously this blending is a seriously important factor, and is the job that falls to the Cellar Master. Using their heightened senses (predominantly scent and taste) they are responsible for consistent quality throughout. The blending is likened to an orchestra – carefully aligning the various notes of Eau-de-Vie to create a perfectly harmonious masterpiece. The secrets of the Cellar Master can only be learnt from their predecessor, and the latest person to take on the mantel is Baptiste Loiseau. In 2014 he took over from Pierrette Trichet, who taught her skills to this young protégée.
Next it is time for the ageing, where the glorious blends are left in oak barrels to develop and gain the depth of flavour and aroma. Rémy Martin only uses French Limousin oak – and if you enjoy the subtle taste of vanilla, this is down to the wood. The separate varieties of their Cognac are aged for different periods of time, in barrels that are diverse in age, to produce a spectrum of tastes.
By this point my mind is swimming with talk of countless Eau-de-Vie, and the rigorous quality control that must go into making this flame coloured drink. Plus I’m thinking those cellar masters have quite a responsibility. But mostly I’m thinking I want to try some of this Cognac.
Try This At Home:
While at Rémy Martin House we were lucky enough to try three varieties of their Cognac, and also learnt what is best to match them with. But first, we had to learn the correct way of experiencing the spirit. It’s not all about the quaffing – first one uses sight, then scent, then aroma, and finally taste. Our host Mae took us to the Tasting Workshop for a first hand test.
The depth of colour changes depending on how long it’s been aging in those oak barrels, ranging from a light glowing amber to a deep, autumnal ochre. Next there’s the smell, best experienced by gradually bringing the glass closer to your nose. You might pick up on marzipan, vanilla or cinnamon, depending on the Cognac. And finally it’s taste – but again, don’t just glug. Take a small sip, and then draw air in through your mouth – you’ll be amazed at how the spirit hits your palate with a fiery intensity and really draws out the incredible flavours.
So, what should one look out for?
Rémy Martin VSOP is probably the bottle you’ll be most familiar with, and is the lightest variety. It is exceedingly drinkable, with hints of vanilla and almond. It does taste the youngest – there’s a lightness to the drink that is very pleasant, and apparently it is ideal alongside punchy flavours like Roquefort cheese, or something to match the vanilla, like apple or apricot tart. We have a lavender macaron, and the sweetness combined with the hit of cognac is great.
XO Excellence is velvety, spicy and well-rounded, and we can already see the difference in the colour. There taste mirrors this depth, and it lingers on the palate much more. We get flavours of fruit cake and figs, as well as juicy plums, and apparently this variety is ideal with foods that are a bit more rich in flavour, such as foie gras and duck with honey sauce. Sounds delicious.
Finally we get to try the darkest drink: 1738 AR. This is the deepest, most seductive hue, and we nibble a chocolate macaron alongside it. The dark, gooey, luxurious sweet is the ideal combination, as the Cognac itself leaves a fabulous flavour of cocoa on the tongue when drunk alone. Apparently this is wonderful with chocolate fondant, and I can certainly imagine it would be heaven to sip the 1738 while spooning up rich, gooey chocolate.
The House that Rémy Martin Built
Rémy Martin House is a beautiful, foliage-covered chateaux, complete with historic cellars, tasting rooms, and opportunities to see where the famed Eau de Vie is chosen. There are a variety of tours available – we were given a fascinating overview by the charming and knowledgable Mae, while gastronomes can indulge in a food-pairing experience, and there’s even a special tour for chocolate lovers.
Can’t make it to the South of France? Never fear, because the seductions of Cognac are coming to Soho this November, courtesy of La Maison Rémy Martin. This private member’s club will feature tastings, talks, and simply a luxurious respite from the hustle and bustle of London. Only Member’s can enter, but there are still opportunities to apply here.