Cognac Rocks on the Rocks; Margaret Swaine’s Spirits Review
The waiter handed me a glass of fine cognac – on the rocks. Was I in a backwater place? Was there some mistake? Not in the least. The drink was served at one of Rémy Martin’s estates in the town of Cognac itself.
It is the recommended way to serve their Coeur de Cognac developed in 1997 to attract a younger market. Rémy Martin is the sole great cognac house to use only eaux-de-vie from the two best crus of the region: Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne. This all Fine Champagne Coeur de Cognac with an age between VSOP and XO is no exception. It is the most fruit driven of Rémy Martin’s cognacs, achieved by selecting the barrels with the smoothest and fruitiest notes. (Distillation on the lees and a slower distillation give more fruity notes to the eaux-de-vie.) Served in a large stemless glass, drinking it is like biting into a fresh stone fruit albeit one with considerable alcohol.
Coeur de Cognac sells here for $124.95/700 mL so it’s no small leap for traditionalists to drink it on ice. Try it – especially on the hot days of August there’s no better way to enjoy a cognac.
I was in Cognac, the medieval town which bears the name of the region, for a second visit after about a ten year hiatus. The place was considerably spruced up with repairs on its narrow medieval cobbled streets beautifully completed and its elegant Renaissance facades cleaned of the grime of centuries. The town’s main hotel Francois Premier, which recently celebrated its 150th anniversary, was just reopened this year after a complete renovation. Rooms had gone from the type that make you want to launder your cloths after a stay, to modern and upscale with free Wi-Fi, flat screen TV’s and fine amenities.
There are about 200 cognac houses in the area but no one offers the tourist a better experience than Rémy Martin. Heritage Communications Manager Pascale Rousseau is on a mission to develop visits that wow people going far beyond the standard tour and tasting. Starting in 2007 she has been creating the Rémy Martin Rendez-Vous experiences. The simplest are train tours of the estate that finish with gourmet appetizers matched with cognacs. The most popular is “At Lunchtime” which feature cognacs matched with appetizers followed by a gourmet lunch in one of the private dining rooms of the House of Rémy Martin prepared by Chef Philippe Saint-Romas who worked in several Michelin starred Paris restaurants.
The most awesome and expensive (1000 Euro) is the Louis XIII Experience. It starts with a pastoral breakfast in the vineyards, proceeds to their distillery in Touzac for an education on distillation and tasting of young eaux-de-vie followed by a “sophisticated” country lunch by the fireplace. Then onto the Merpins Estate, the production site of all Rémy Martin and where participants are introduced to the different stages of blending and aging of eaux-de-vie. Then there’s a tasting of the actual cognacs accompanied by gourmet appetizers at the Rémy House in Cognac. In late afternoon it’s time for a ceremonial tasting of Louis XIII. Finally the evening begins at the family estate of Grollet in Saint-Même-les-Carrières in the Grande Champagne with a tour and then an elegant gastronomic candle-lit dinner. It finishes with a special tasting of Louis XIII from the barrel. Considering Louis XIII sells for $2,800 a bottle in Ontario, this might be considered a bargain. It is a tour to beat all tours.
Rémy Martin’s other great ace in the hole is Pierrette Trichet, who on April 1, 2003 (after almost thirty years of learning on the job – she started in the lab April 1, 1976) became the first ever female cellar master in the history of Rémy Martin. Just as an aside, she formed Le Club des Alambiquées (membership 8) with the handful of other woman who make cognac in Cognac to meet at distillation time and taste. Her creative genius is behind the blending for the brands of today.
Available in Canada are the distinctive Rémy Martin VS, Rémy Martin VSOP the leader in its category, Rémy Martin Coeur De Cognac (the one to ice), the opulent Rémy Martin XO Excellence Cognac and the king of all, Louis XIII Cognac.
The people of Cognac are nicknamed “cagouille” in France, a slang word for snail. They say they take their time because it takes time to mature cognac. They are always late – called the “le quart d’heure charentais” which they defend as not being a fault but a trait. Their motto roughly translates as “move slowly but never retreat”. If that’s what it takes to keep making this finest of spirit I say give them all the time they need.
For all reviews by Margaret Swaine, click here.