Updated: April 1, 2016 2:49:20 pm
Drinking cognac over a century old is like drinking a vintage Rolls-Royce, or a first edition of, say, Jack London’s Call of the Wild. The cognac I sipped some time ago, in a musty, candle-lit cellar in France was Remy Martin’s Louis XIII, one of the world’s great and most expensive cognacs (each bottle costs as much as small car). Before we proceed further, a bit about cognac (in not more than 200 words, I assure you):
What is cognac?
Cognac is essentially brandy, made by distilling wine, in the Cognac region of France. The best cognacs, like Louis XIII, are made from grapes grown in the Grande Champagne, the heart of the grape-growing region in Cognac. If you are a grape in Cognac, Grande Champagne has the same appeal as Malabar Hill does in Mumbai, or GK-2, in Delhi.
Cognac is distilled twice, at first to a spirit — the French call it eau de vie, or ‘water of life’ — of about 30 percent alcohol, and then, to an eau de vie of about 70 percent alcohol. Ten litres of wine produce a litre of eau-de-vie.
Have a look at this short video of a 100 years of Louis XIII
Inside the cellars
There are different grades of cognac, but the eaux-de-vie that goes into the making of Louis XIII lie mostly undisturbed in casks called tiercons for over a 100 years. The only contact it makes is with the cellar master who each year selects certain casks, including those from different grape-growing areas, to be blended with certain others.
After a 100 years, after being blended by three generations of cellar masters, the number of eaux-de-vie in each cask is over 1,200. (Lower rung VSOP or XO cognacs comprise about 100 different eaux-de-vie.)
The first sip
It was a cool July night, one of Remy Martin’s staffers handed me some of that precious liquid straight from a tiercon. I nosed the cognac, and encountered hints of tobacco and, maybe, saffron. And, then I drink it, in about a gulp. The first sensation is of a viscous voluptuousness, like a jazz ballad in your mouth. The folks that Remy tell me that some tasters can discern over 250 subtle flavours in a glass of Louis XIII. I thought I detected fig, and maybe sandalwood, as the rest of the pour slid smoothly down my gullet. “It’s like drinking a century in a glass,” Pierette Trichet, the then cellar master at Remy Martin, told me, as we made our way out of the storehouse. I smiled, and looked around, amazed that the liquid inside the casks would be drunk by some lucky guy, in 2126, long after you, I and Trichet have left this world.
The author is a bon vivant who prefers to inhabit the shadows.
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