The gift of Cognac

by David Russell

The oldest of the great cognac houses commemorates its 300th anniversary with a distinctive new blend

Martell & Co., the oldest of the great cognac houses, has spent three centuries challenging the boundaries of its own expertise, and their latest creation – the limited edition Martell Premier Voyage – has pushed those boundaries to a whole new level.

In September The Reserve travelled to Cognac, France for the unveiling of Martell Premier Voyage at Château de Chanteloup. Limited to only 300 individually numbered bottles worldwide and produced to order, Martell Premier Voyage is a fitting representation of the company’s 300-year history.

Encased in a simple and elegant teardrop-shaped Sèvres crystal decanter designed exclusively by French artist, Bernar Venet, the anniversary blend contains a selection of 18 eaux-de-vie from the cellars of Jean Martell, some dating back to as early as 1830. Symbolically for the anniversary, the cuvée was then aged in barrels made from the wood of 300 year-old oak trees.

In an interview with cellar master Benoît Fil, the Martell Premier Voyage creator described the new blend as “a reflection of the journey and history of Jean Martell.” Thanks to the company’s unprecedented archives on display at Founder’s House – a museum open to visitors of the Martell distillery – the company was able to piece together a map of the founder’s key suppliers from 1735 to 1742. Fil then retraced Martell’s steps by visiting the descendants of the winegrowers who create the best quality eaux-de-vie. After what Fil described as a meticulous process of selecting ingredients and determining the optimal proportions, the tercentennial anniversary blend was born. Fil added, “Martell Premier Voyage combines the vision of Jean Martell with the best of the Cognac region to create something uniquely special that we can enjoy today. This new blend truly captures three centuries of Martell turning cognac into art.”

The unveiling in September heralded the start of a yearlong anniversary programme that will culminate in the launch of an immersive exhibition at the Palace of Versailles in 2015.

Martell and the Palace of Versailles

Martell has enjoyed a longstanding connection with Versailles, home to generations of French nobility, because the Palace embodies the exquisite perfection that artists and master craftsmen can achieve, and because Versailles has played a leading role in promoting French culture and art around the world.

From its very beginnings in 1715 – the same year as the reign of Louis XIV ended– the House of Martell became a supplier to some of the world’s leading figures. Martell cognacs were served at the tables of the Duke of Orleans in France, the Emperor of Austria, the tsars of Russia, the kings of England and Napoleon I.

For Martell, the Palace of Versailles represents a passion for beauty, a quest for perfection and a vision of luxury and the finest gastronomy. It is in this spirit that Martell decided to support the restoration to its former splendour of the famous

Queen’s Antechamber at Versailles, where the sumptuous daily ritual of the king’s ceremonial dinner was performed.

In a private tour of the Palace of Versailles hosted by Martell, The Reserve learnt that The Queen’s Antechamber was where these remarkable developments took place. It was here that the great tradition of French cuisine was born. By supporting its restoration, Martell has demonstrated its passion for this prestigious heritage: gastronomy, and harmonious pairings between dishes, wines and spirits.

Cognac from Cognac

Upon arriving in Cognac with our Martell hosts, the scenery gradually transformed into neat rows of vines stretching as far as the eye can see. It wasn’t hard to tell we were in a land steeped in heritage and pride.

Situated on the river Charente approximately 400 km southwest of Paris, the town of Cognac is renowned globally for the unique type of brandy that bears its name. In order to enjoy the distinction of being labelled cognac, the spirit must be made in specific areas around the town and it must follow strictly defined regulations and traditions of production and quality control. The longer a cognac matures in the barrel the smoother it will generally become, and once it is bottled no further development takes place.

All of the cognac consumed around the world comes from this small area in France covering around 185,000 acres – and nowhere else.

Jean Martell founded the Martell House in 1715, and within six years of operation the company was already exporting over 200,000 litres of cognac to the UK. It was in 1868, approximately 150 after the company’s founding, that the brand launched distribution to China, Japan and Hong Kong.

During a private distillery tour, the Martell team explained that their cognac differs from other brands primarily due to the development of its own unique double-distillation method. The successive distillation processes are carried out in stills or tanks that have been designed to extract the clear wines only to achieve a more elegant eaux-de-vie.

The experts further explained that Martell grapes come from the Charente region’s four main growing areas: Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies and Fins Bois. The eaux-de-vie are then aged in oak casks in the cellars. Martell uses only carved fine-grain ‘Tronçais’ oak wood barrels in order to release subtle woody aromas from the soft, delicate tannins. The choice of wood helps to create the signature style of Martell cognacs.

Martell produces approximately 1.5 million 9-litre cases of cognac per year and its cellars inventory a stock of over 200,000 casks of maturing eaux-de-vie.

Of the 300 bottles of Martell Premier Voyage to be available worldwide, only 12 have been allocated for purchase in Hong Kong. To secure your own personal bottle of this distinctive new blend (HK$110,000), please contact chris.yeung@pernod-ricard.com.

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