If wine tasting is bullshit, it should follow that so is cognac tasting.
That said, there is something to be said about the romance and history surrounding food and wine. Listen to a farmer tell you how he cares for his pigs on the farm and it doesn’t matter that they end up in hotdogs, it’s a wonderful story and experience.
Rémy Martin has taken over a space in Calgary for a number of weeks to offer what they call The Heart of Cognac Experience. Small groups are escorted through the history of the brand learning how cognac is made, blended, and turned in to a product that can cost upwards of $10 000 a bottle.
First you spend some time in the lounge sipping a cognac cocktail.
Then you enter the blending room. It looks like a lab with beaker tubes, a long white table, and blends of eaux-de-vie on the walls and in front of you. Here we learn about Pierrette Trichet, the Master Blender for Rémy Martin and how she can take upwards of 1200 different eaux-de-vie to blend the cognacs in the portfolio.
Here we are given a sample of VSOP to taste. We learn that ugni blanc is the grape cognac comes from and the distilleries are made strictly with copper. The wine is double distilled to create a clear eau-de-vie that is then barreled for four to 15 years. This VSOP is labelled Fine Champagne meaning it comes half from Petite Champagne and half from Grand Champagne within the Cognac region.
We are presented with bottles of eaux-de-vie that have been aged for 4, 8, and 15 years and are asked to recreate the glass in front of us.
Note: chemistry is much more fun when you’re making alcohol. My partner and I didn’t quite the blend just right, but we were close.
Up next was a darkened room meant to look like the cellars in Cognac. If you were to line the barrels of Rémy Martin end to end, they would reach almost from Calgary to Edmonton (nearly 300km). That’s a lot of barrels that Pierrette Trichet has to choose from when blending her products. No wonder she spent 10 years apprenticing even after she was named the next Master Blender. Twice a year her nose and palette are tested to ensure the quality of the product the House produces.
In the barrel room we are given a sample of the Coeur de Cognac, my favorite of the blends before we dip into the barrel in front of us to try a sip of XO along with a bitter chocolate.
All along the way we are nosing, sipping, smelling, and trying to match the essence, aroma, and flavours with real world examples. This is the part of tasting that I fine to be silly. Perhaps it’s my naive palette, but it comes off like a bit of poetry interpretation. At one point I get a nose of pancakes and maple syrup. I don’t think that’s what Mme Trichet was going for.
The experience was wonderful. It is so great to hear the romance and history surrounding a brand that is centuries old. The Louis XIII cognac (which we did not sample) is blended with eau de vie that can be up to 100 years old. It’s a gift that is passed from generation to generation. The Master Blender who cellars the eau-de-vie will never sample the blend it will become.
That’s pretty special stuff.
I left the evening with a greater appreciation for cognac, and one that I’d like you to get out and experience as well, but AGLC rules specifically deny me the ability to tell you how to experience the Rémy Martin Heart of Cognac Experience yourself.