I entered Beverly Hills Hotel’s Bar Nineteen 12 and they ushered me to the back of the stately room to meet Remy Martin Director Vincent Géré, who was in town from France to conduct structured tastings with L.A. drink writers. We sat across from each other at the low table. He had already filled two rows of tumblers with “brown” liquors, five of his favorite oak-aged bourbons, whiskeys and Cognacs, brands ranging in price from $40-100. Of course one of the tumblers contained Remy Martin 1738 Cognac, the brand he was in town to promote, but he wasn’t showing his hand until the very end.
Before we began, Géré established some baseline criteria for judging the contents of our tumblers. “There are ways of look at quality,” he said. Begin by “looking at the glass on the nose” twice. The first time, you can tell whether the spirit is flat, medium weight or has “real lift.” Get even closer to the nose the second time.
Then, “on the palate,” take two sips. The first sip is “to get appreciation of viscosity,” the liquor’s coating effect. Second, look for the overall balance in how it tastes, how it finishes. Géré said that at spirit competitions, the “President of the Jury should lay out these types of rules.”
What Géré didn’t initially discuss the color and the way the spirit coats the glass. “Darker doesn’t necessarily mean older and richer,” he said. “Things can get dark by natural oxidation…it can be a sign of things being a bit tired.”
When it comes to swirling spirits, don’t. According to Géré, “Great spirits are for lazy people.” If you swirl, it mixes the layers of flavor. Another factor to consider: the thicker the glass, the tougher it is to differentiate delicate layers.
We started by smelling the aroma emanating from glasses 1 to 5. “The nose can detect more things than the palate,” said Géré. “[At Remy Martin] we do all the blending on the nose.” He said that based on what they smell, there are rarely surprises when tasting. However, some subtle flavors that aren’t present on the nose appear on the palate. For example, “With a grassy spirit you might get a bit of green apple.”
Throughout the process, Géré mentioned numerous impressions. Maybe it was the power of suggestion from a clear expert, but here are the select descriptors I could place when smelling myself:
1) mellow, honey, smoky
2) deeper intensity, more “lift,” nuttier
3) high intensity, raisin, licorice
4) rounder, sweet, fruity
5) thinner, more alcohol kick
We continued the blind tasting by actually tasting, since “The palate confirms the nose.”
1) not too viscous, hay-like, smoky
2) more complexity and kick, drier
3) strong oak flavor, bitter finish
4) thicker, layered fruit, mild chocolate
5) thinner, shorter legs, more alcohol
Géré’s staff presented tiny bites to pair with each glass. His suggested pairings included Balik Salmon served on a corn blini with Meyer lemon aioli and American caviar, which he thought would pair well with spirit #2. He thought Tomato, Buffalo Mozzarella and Pesto Canape served on pumpernickel crouton paired well with #4. He expected Slow Roasted Peking Duck Breast speared with a fig, an orange segment and toasted pistachio, to pair well with #5. Beef Tenderloin Tartar served on a grilled mini baguette with gherkin was good with #2 or #3. Finally, there was an oozing gougere to neutralize the palate after spirit #3 or #4.
After the tasting, Géré revealed that spirit #4 was in fact Remy Martin 1738 Cognac, which has been available in the U.S. for the past five years. The Cognac is produced using 65% Grande Champagne grapes and 35% Petite Champagne grapes. The process involves blending 4- to 26-year-old Cognacs made from 16 different harvests, involving 270 different components. He said the key to 1738’s complexity and balance was “piling up components, years, flavors.” The only other spirit that Géré revealed was #2, an 18-year-old single-malt Scotch.
He suggested that the 1738 be used in cocktails like the Sidecar, “a powerfully textured cocktail,” or the White Lady with crème de menthe.
I’m far from an expert on spirits, but this meeting with Géré provided me with more tools to be able to conduct critical analysis. And now you have those tools as well, if you didn’t already.
October 3, 2009 at 8:50 AM
Interesting review! Doing a tasting with an expert is a great experience.
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October 2, 2009 at 9:07 PM
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