In my years of reviewing spirits, there have been a couple surprises along the way for sure. Things that I had overlooked previously that, with a new found appreciation for the art of distilling, have really stood out as delicious mainstays of my Friday evenings. French rum was one of those spirits, bringing a delicious complex fruitiness that I have come to enjoy and appreciate. And this is what inspired today’s choice — I had never previously been overly interested in cognac, but with the surprising deliciousness of French rum I figured it was well worth a try.
Wine is great. It is a delicious, complex beverage that (when manufactured and stored properly) is a joy to drink. But wine can be finnicky — stored for too long, or at the wrong temperature, and it degrades into vinegar. Basically unless everything lines up, what comes out of the bottle might be worthless.
Sometime around the 15th century, Dutch traders introduced the process of distillation to the French wine makers and immediately some of them latched onto this process as a way to make their otherwise annoyingly temperamental bottles of wine into a shelf stable and temperature insensitive product that could be shipped around the world. Originally, this process was used to create fortified wine but, as the process was improved and perfected over the centuries, eventually some producers stopped trying to use the distilled alcohol to make the wine better and instead started using wine to try and make the distilled spirit better.
As with everything in France, once something becomes good and delicious, a gigantic stack of regulations and rigorous requirements are created to define that thing and try to protect it. In this case, two regions in France had become known for their production of distilled wine: Armagnac, which distills their spirits in a column still in the south of France, and Cognac, which uses a pot still and is located in the south west of France.
Rémy Martin was born in 1695 in France and spent his life as a winemaker. In 1724, he expanded his business to include a trading house for cognac, a component of the business that was continued when his son took over in 1773. In 1841, Paul-Emile-Rémy Martin assumed control of the company and greatly expanded the cognac trading business, creating their own brand and trademark of a centaur (after Paul’s astrological sign).
Remy Martin launched their flagship brand of VSOP Fine Champagne Cognac in 1927, and since then the brand has been one of the biggest and most recognizable cognac producers worldwide. These days, the business is one component of the Remy Cointreau company, a parent company created by Remy Martin that also owns a number of other cognac production and liqueur production brands. The company remains family owned to this day.
- Learn More: What Is Cognac?
As with everything in France, the production of French cognac is a highly regulated and strictly defined process. Which is good for us, as we can quickly figure out what we have in the bottle here.
This bottle of Remy Martin is marketed as their 1738 Accord Royal and celebrates the seal of approval that King Louis XV bestowed on them in 1738 for the fine craftsmanship of their cognac.
Cognac starts its life the exact same way as wine, specifically with the growing of grapes. As with most of the cognacs that Remy Martin produces, and in keeping with their history of a trading house, this bottle is a blend sourced from different wineries near the Cognac region. Since this bottle is specifically labeled as a “Cognac Fine Champagne”, we can actually narrow that down considerably since all of the grapes would need to be grown and harvested in Grand Champagne and Fine Champagne (two confusingly named regions adjacent to Cognac in the southwest of France that have nothing to do with the more well-known region of Champagne near Reims).
For cognac, the vast majority of the grapes grown are of the ugni blanc variety due to their high acidity and sugar content, but about six different varieties of grape can be used in the production process. These grapes are grown on vineyards in the appropriate regions and harvested when ripe, then crushed and pressed to extract the sugary juice from the grapes. Notably, in the Cognac region, the use of mechanical screw presses has been banned (as it can create a bitter, flawed flavor) so all of the pressing is done by hand.
The next step in the process is to actually make wine out of the grape juice. Yeast is added to the pressed grape juice, which converts the sugar in the liquid into alcohol (and, notably, no artificial sugar is allowed to be added to help that process along). The wine is allowed to ferment until it reaches about 7% to 12% alcohol by volume, at which point it is ready to be distilled.
Cognac is required to be batch distilled in small copper pots, over an open flame, using a worm tube condenser. It’s a traditional method that prevents mass production on the same scale as we’ve seen in the United States with bourbon, which also ensures the process is more closely monitored for quality control. Over the course of two distillations, the liquid is concentrated to no more than 72.4% ABV, which preserves a lot of the natural flavors that otherwise are lost when distilling to a higher alcohol content.
Something to point out here is that Remy Martin does things slightly differently than other distillers. When fermentation is complete, the yeast cells naturally die off and land at the bottom of the fermentation tanks. In most cases, these calls are strained off and discarded but Remy Martin leaves some of them in when they start the distillation process. This adds some unique flavors that otherwise aren’t possible.
After the wine has been distilled, it is placed into French oak barrels for maturation. Typically, in the Cognac region, this starts with a brand new French oak barrel for one year before the spirit is moved to an older oak barrel to continue the process.
Once appropriately matured, the barrels of cognac are blended together to create the desired flavor profile. In this case, the bottle doesn’t claim an age statement (such as VSOP), so we can’t be sure how long the cognac has been aging in barrels before it arrived in our bottle.
There’s a simplicity and an elegance to this bottle that really works for me.
On first glance, this could easily be mistaken for a champagne bottle just by the general outline. There’s a large round base and relatively short body that gently curves into a long neck, all flowing one to the next without much of a transition. Capping off that bottle is a plastic and cork stopper.
While there is a rather large label on the body of the bottle, the good news is that it doesn’t obscure very much of the actual real estate. There’s plenty of open glass through which you can admire the deep richness of the spirit, and Remy Martin uses that to their advantage by putting their brand name and the centaur logo directly on the bottle in metallic gold paint. The darkness of the spirit becomes a background of velvety red color that looks great from across the room.
This, in my opinion, is the right way to evoke the ideas of an antique bottle with a modern twist. The shape of the bottle and the design of the paper seem to feel right out of the 1700’s, but the metallic paint on the bottle itself is a modern touch.
The cognac has a wonderfully dark color to it, like a rusty piece of iron. There’s a lot of brown, but just enough of that orange-amber hue to keep things interesting.
Coming off the glass is a well saturated and fruity aroma, with raisins, pears, apples, and dried figs being the first things that comes to mind. Supporting those are some baking spices, like cinnamon and nutmeg, some brown sugar, as well as a delicious buttery aroma.
(Imagine a sliced baguette slathered with French buerre doux butter, topped with slices of apple and pear, with a drizzle of caramelized brown sugar. That’s what this smells like.)
Most of those components translate into the flavor profile, but not quite in the way you might expect. The grapes are the star of the show (as they should be) with dried raisins coming out first, followed by some baking spices, and then the orchard fruit. But rather than the crisp and clean versions that we saw in the aroma, these are closer to stewed apples and pears that have been cooked with brown sugar. It’s a richer and more luxurious flavor, one that reminds me of a Tarte Tatin — if you sprinkled some raisins over the top and added some pears.
On the finish, there’s a bit more depth that comes through; specifically, there’s some sweet and complex dark chocolate or cacao nibs without the associated bitterness.
When starting this test, I was honestly a little concerned about what would happen when a little ice gets added to the mix. The best flavors in this spirit come from the distillation process, with those sweet and fruity components really defining a cognac. If those disappear, there isn’t much reason to pick this bottle over something else.
Surprisingly, this performed better than I expected.
What you get with some ice in the glass here is a flavor profile that is much closer to that original aroma. The fruity notes are crisper and brighter, with just a little twinge of bitterness adding some needed life to the profile (much like the bitters in an old fashioned). It brightens up the drink and makes it feel more lively. There’s still plenty of richness and depth, and the dark chocolate component is still there, but the fruit stands out much more cleanly in this version.
There are two ingredients that matter in a sidecar: cognac and Cointreau. Both of which, in this case, are manufactured by Remy Cointreau. So it should come as no shock that this cocktail is absolutely delicious in every way.
There’s a wonderful balance between the dried fruit and the richer, darker flavors of the cognac against the bright and fruity orange and lemon notes from the Cointreau and lemon juice. Unlike a margarita (which has some of the same components but is purposefully sour), this drink is nicely balanced and still is able to highlight many of the fruity flavors from the spirit.
One thing I would have liked is a bit more saturation from the cognac. Everything is in balance, but personally I like cocktails that have a bit of depth and richness to them. This feels like a party — but I want to see what’s going on in the back room.
For those who have never tried it, cognac is definitely something to put on your list. There’s a fruity deliciousness to this spirit that is undeniably great, no matter whether you try this on its own or in a cocktail. And once you factor in the history and the craftsmanship that goes into each bottle, it really makes you appreciate and savor every sip.
This is a sweet, fruity, rich and delicious spirit that seems to be executed well. All of the flavors from the distillation are clear and present, and I feel like this might even be something that my wine-drinking wife might be able to get behind.
If I have one complaint for this bottle, it’s that it could be a bit deeper and richer in flavor. This still feels like a fairly light and crisp spirit, and I really want to see what this tastes like with some additional years of maturation.
|Remy Martin 1738 Accord Royal
Classification: Cognac Brandy
Special Type: Fine Champagne
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $59.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 4/5
Dried raisins, pears, apples, baking spices, and a bit of dark chocolate all come together to make something that is well worth your time and your dollars.