Describing the ‘notes’ in a glass of wine or Cognac has always been the somewhat mysterious art of the connoisseur. Rémy Martin’s international ambassador Alexandre Quintin puts a simple spin on it.
The six-foot long table in the private dining room at Barangaroo’s 12-Micron restaurant table is dressed like an Old Master’s still life. It’s an artfully arranged tableau of waxed paper bags bursting with walnuts, pistachios and hazelnuts, dishes of sticky orange marmalade, fragrant sticks of vanilla and cinnamon, rough-hewn chocolate, spice biscuit discs, and polished fresh fruit from Central Casting.
Alexandre Quintin, brand ambassador for Rémy Martin’s XO Cognac, proffers a glass of the XO poured from its voluptuous new look carafe in much the same way the Oscars’ winning envelopes might be passed to presenters. Anticipation is all.
Indeed, it’s possibly one of the most intoxicating spirits you’ll ever smell. (OK, except maybe for the top end Rémy Martin Louis XIII, the crocodile Birkin of the Cognac world.)
There are six growth areas (crus) in Cognac. At the top of the pyramid is Grande Champagne, followed by Petite Champagne, Borderies, Fin Bois, Bon Bois, and Bois Ordinaires.
Grand Champagne has the greatest amount of Campanian chalk in its soil, and its vines yield subtle, fragrant Cognacs that require the greatest maturation. The premier cru encompasses 27 winemaking communities.
There are more than 300 brands of Cognac, two dozen produced in significant quantities. Rémy Martin was founded in 1724. Nearly 400 years later the house is still family owned.
The building blocks of Cognac are the eaux de vie – the double distillations of each vintage from the chalky Charente region of Cognac in south-west France, aged in limousin oak barrels. The Rémy Martin XO contains eaux de vie from six years old to 35 years and beyond. The Louis XIII (sorry to harp) is a blend of more than 1200 different eaux de vie, aged up to 100 years.
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But for now we are sniffing out the floral notes, the fruit notes, and the spicy notes of the XO, pretty much everything that’s on the table. Then work backwards: smell a split vanilla pod, nibble on a gingerbread biscuit, chew on tart orange peel, inhale the cinnamon – and the Cognac starts to really sing. That dance of taste and smell shape up an opulent, sensory experience. It becomes possible to discern each all that’s on the table in the glass.
“The XO spends a lot of time in oak so it’s more concentrated and the aromas have evolved into richer fruits. It tastes more like dates, candied fruit, toffee, with hints of flowers and spicy vanilla,” says Quintin, in Australia to proselytize.
Alexandre Quintin says harmony, opulence, and length are what sets premium Cognacs apart. “Harmony is the balance as the drink coats your tongue and you experience the mixture of sensations from the areas that detect sweet, sour, bitter and salted flavours. Opulence is how much space it takes in your palate and Length is how long it stays on your palate when you drink it.”
Discovery: Cognac goes especially well with a slither of Parmesan, and (but not together) a cube of crystallized ginger. Who knew!
Photos: Supplied and Susan Skelly