Cognac tasting with Martell

Like every ordinary Joe, I’m still confused with wine and spirit tasting. I just couldn’t find the “coffee notes” or “hint of plum.” Maybe because I’m not an expert or my palate isn’t sophisticated enough for detecting those subtle flavors. Truth be told, I’m not very well versed in this department.

Although I enjoy a glass of chardonnay or sauvignon blanc and an occasional whiskey rocks, I’m still relatively clueless about it all. But I do have my favorites, leaning towards white over red and I love sparkling wines like sweet Spanish Cava. And when it comes to whiskey, I’m only aware of like four brands, and two names for cognac.

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Martell Cordon Bleu

Cognac is a variety of brandy, which means it is also made with grapes. This spirit, however, is only produced in a specific region in France—Cognac. It is the only spirit named after the region where it comes from. It is a double distilled eau-de-vie (colorless brandy) aged in fine grain oak barrels.

One of the oldest Cognac houses in the region is Martell. Founded in 1715 by Jean Martell, it is one of, if not, the biggest cognac brand today. The brand is very popular in its home turf and in Asia, specifically in China.

Considering that Martell was first exported to the Philippines in 1894, cognac remains to be the lesser known spirit. Filipinos love their beer and brandy while whiskey is for special occasions. Then there’s vodka, gin, and rum, liquors that are perfect for cocktails.

According to Martell brand ambassador Pierre Boyer, the Philippines is an important market mainly because we like to drink and our economy is still performing very well. He also says that cognac consumption is shifting from the West to the East with China leading the way. Cognac is also big in Malaysia, where Pierre is based.

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Martell brand ambassador Pierre Boyer

Born in Cognac, France, Pierre says that drinking cognac in France is not what it is used to. “France is drinking less and less spirits. In France after a meal no one is going to have a glass of cognac, before it was the case during the generation of my grandparents. This culture doesn’t exist anymore. Young people are experimenting more on cocktails and lounge drinks,” he says.

Martell has a long history and its expertise in the cognac business is undeniable. It uses a fine process that results into an exquisite product. The brand has several blends but during the tasting, we were able to try the VSOP, Cordon Bleu, and XO.

Cognac is made of ugni blanc, a variety of grape that exclusively grows in the Cognac region. Martell looks for “style” when it comes to producing cognac. It has to have three important qualities—elegance, complexity, and balance.

VSOP is the youngest among the three blends. It’s a very smooth and mellow cognac and has subtle candied fruit notes. This particular blend is perfect for cocktails. Two of the most popular cognac cocktails are the cognac tonic and cognac ginger (cognac with ginger ale).

The Cordon Bleu is the most elegant because of its legendary reputation. When Edouard Martell created this blend in 1912, it single-handedly defined the “Martell style.” This blend with a deep golden copper color has fruity notes of plum and spicy notes of cinnamon. When paired with food, it is perfect with white meat and dark chocolate.

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This pan-seared sea bass is perfect with a glass of

XO on the other hand is the oldest among the three. It is very complex and has this distinct spicy lingering finish. It has a variety of aromas including almonds, black pepper, and pink berries.

For the uninitiated, Pierre suggests this if you want to discover the elegance of cognac: “To me the best thing when you are trying to discover cognac, to reveal all the aromas and the secret then you should drink it neat. But then if you’re coming back from a stressful day, and you would like it with a bit of ice, why not? When the cocktail culture started in the US and Europe, at the end of the 19th century, all of the famous cocktails were made with cognac. Whiskey sour for example would have not existed if not for brandy or cognac sour. Same goes with many cocktails that were created with brandy. In the end, it’s the way you like it.”

Read my Manila Bulletin Lifestyle article here.

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8 Romantic restaurants for that perfect date

New restaurants opening in the metro tend to keep their interiors simple and practically the same—concrete floors, mural walls, wood tables, steel chairs, and bulb light fixtures. The industrial and minimalist look is pleasing enough but quite frankly unromantic. Only a handful of restaurants go the extra mile to make its space unique and beautiful. But it’s not only the interiors that matter, it’s the location, too.

I list down eight of the most beautiful and romantic restaurants in Metro Manila for your date this Valentine’s Day. And these restaurants have good food to boot.

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Photo credit: Facebook/RusticMornings

1. Rustic Mornings by Isabelo, Marikina

Weathered furniture and country-style knick-knack make this one of the most Instagrammable restaurants in the metro. The shabby chic interiors and al fresco dining area are so charming they are perfect for a romantic brunch or lunch. The restaurant serves delicious breakfast food

No. 11 I. Mendoza St. San Roque, Marikina City / +632 425 8610 / Facebook/RusticMornings

2. Harbor View, Manila

This restaurant may not have the most beautiful interior on the list but it has the most beautiful view. Located at the breakwater of Manila Bay, giving its diners front seats to the world-famous sunset. It serves fresh seafood and Filipino cuisine.

South Dr. Ermita, Manila (beside Manila Ocean Park) / +632 710 0060

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Photo credit: Facebook/cafe.juanita.ph

3. Cafe Juanita, Pasig

I’m not a real Pasigueño if this iconic restaurant did not make the list. Its eclectic decors and interiors are what make this restaurant stand out from the rest. The atmosphere it creates is undeniably romantic. Its delicious Filipino and Asian food is the main reason why it lasted for so many years.

No. 19 West Capito Dr., Kapitolyo, Pasig City / +632 632 0357 / Facebook/cafe.juanita.ph

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Photo credit: Facebook/casarocesphils

4. Casa Roces, Manila

This old house-turned restaurant has a lot of history. Located in San Miguel or Malacañan compound, the restaurant’s old interior and history are what make dining here much more interesting. Enjoy the Spanish-Filipino fare that do not disappoint.

1153 JP Laurel cor Aguado St. San Miguel, Manila / +632 708 4020 / Facebook/casarocesphils

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Photo credit: Facebook/NinyoFusionCuisine&WineLounge

5. Ninyo Fusion Cuisine & Wine Lounge, Quezon City

Dine in your own cabana with flowy white fabric curtains and by candle light. Enjoy its modern international cuisine and selection of wine. What can be more romantic than that?

66 Esteban Abada St. Loyola Heights, Quezon City / +632 426 0301 ? / Facebook

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6. Flame, Makati

Dine 16 floors up with the Makati skyline as your backdrop. The beautiful interiors, delicious fusion European-Asian cuisine, and the breathtaking views are the perfect ingredients for a romantic date.

16th floor, Discovery Primea, 6749 Ayala Ave., Makati City / +632 955 8888 / Website

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Photo credit: Facebook/BlackbirdAtTheNielsonTower

7. Blackbird, Makati

This fine-dining restaurant has been making waves since it opened. It is housed at the beautiful art deco Nielson Tower building that used to be an airport terminal and control tower. Its history is already romantic, augmented by the beautiful greenery around the building creating an illusion of a rural setting. Its European and Asian menu is also top notch.

Ayala Triangle Walkways, Makati / +632 828 4888 / Facebook

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Photo credit: manila-hotel.com.ph

8. Champagne Room, Manila

Speaking about iconic, this restaurant is probably the most iconic romantic spot in the metro. Its French-inspired interior—those beautiful crystal palm trees—is what made this restaurant a symbol of romantic Manila.

The Manila Hotel, One Rizal Park, Manila / +632 527 0011 / Website

Read my Manila Bulletin Lifestyle article here.