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.
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.
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.
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.