Lustrous Liquid

3 minute read

There’s cognac, and then there’s cognac. The emphasis is on the latter at Domaine du Grollet, the family estate of cognac maker Rémy Martin outside Cognac in southwestern France. In one of its aging cellars, rows of tierçons (ancient oak barrels) hold eaux-de-vie (twice-distilled white wine that acquires its amber color from the barrel) for the 40-100 years it takes to attain the opulent qualities of its premium cognac, Louis XIII de Rémy Martin, which retails for around $1,400 a bottle. To be labeled a cognac, as opposed to a mere brandy, the eau-de-vie must come mainly from three types of white grapes — Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche and Colombard — grown in the areas around the town.

Despite coming from vineyards in an even more exclusive area, Louis XIII is still the blend of 1,200 individual eaux-de-vie. Like the medieval cathedral builders who didn’t live to see the fruits of their labors, many of the master tasters who filled these first tierçons did not live to sample their final product. “It’s quite moving to work on something that is part of a national patrimony,” says Rémy Martin cellarmaster Vincent Géré. Named in homage to the 17th century French King after a royal decanter from his reign was dug up more than two centuries later at the site of a nearby battle, Louis XIII was first produced in 1874 by Paul-Emile Rémy Martin, the founder’s great-great grandson.

Standing in a Domaine du Grollet cellar, dank with the heady aroma of the tierçons and the cognac, I hold a tulip glass of Louis XIII and prepare myself for this rare tasting opportunity. “Don’t merely take a first sip,” Géré tells me. “Instead, try to crush that first drop on your teeth.” So how does century-old cognac taste? Well, like the 20th century itself: complex. Even the occasional cognac drinker like me can immediately sense a unique palate with each sip. First I tasted the oak outright, followed by a very distinct apple and hint of vanilla. Moments later, a flowery aroma, then a spicy sweetness.

Rémy Martin has gone even further upscale with the release of Black Pearl (pictured), a limited-edition Louis XIII priced at a breathtaking $9,050. And that means limited: only 786 bottles will be produced, all from the contents of a single tierçon of the Rémy Martin family’s stock. The decanter is a unique Baccarat crystal design that appears either opaque or translucent (or both). If you’re lucky enough to taste it, remember to crush that first drop to perfection.

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