Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Remy Martin masterclass at Boisdale

Boisdale is becoming something of a second home. No sooner had I been kicked off the roof terrace for making too much noise at the end of a very merry Groundhog Day dinner sampling the delights of Chivas Regal, than I was invited back for a Rémy Martin masterclass.

The event was hosted by the gallantly-titled Louis XIII Brand Ambassador Alexandre Quintin, a young Frenchman with clear blue eyes and a voice that could melt glass.

A duo of Rémy Martin cocktails – the Side Car and French Mojito, kicked off the evening in style, which I enjoyed whilst quizzing Alexandre about the alleged Bruni-Sarkozy ménage a quatre. A French colleague had told me the affairs hadn't been reported in the French press at all, and I was keen to find out why.

'We're not interested in what Sarkozy gets up to in his spare time', Alexandre says, before we're ushered into the dining room. There are ten of us, and I'm one of only two women. I suppose Cognac has always been, and still is, a male domain. Alexandre introduces himself and his aim for the evening – to turn the concept of Cognac on its head and break the rules by playing with temperature and food matches.

The word brandy comes from the Dutch brandewijn, meaning burnt wine, which came into use when Dutch traders introduced brandy to Northern Europe from Southern France. Alexandre explains that all Cognacs are brandies but not all brandies are Cognacs. In order to be classified as Cognac, the brandy needs to be from the Cognac region, have been double distilled and aged in French oak for at least two years, and be 40% abv or above when bottled.

The best Cognacs come from Grand and Petit Champagne regions due to their Champagne-like chalky soils that impart the Cognacs with minerality and high acidity, making them more refined and elegant and giving them greater ageing potential.

Time to put all this theory into practice... the waiter emerges with shot glasses of Rémy Martin VSOP frozen to -18 degrees, which is paired with smoked salmon blinis. It has a lovely floral nose with toffee and caramel undertones and hints of aniseed and banana brought though by the freezing temperature.

Next up we try the same VSOP, but this time at room temperature paired with Roquefort and wild rocket. At the higher temperature more of the fruit and floral aromas come through – I find peach, apricot and violet, and vanilla from the oak. The tangy Roquefort pairing is inspired.

We move swiftly on to the Remy Martin XO at room temperature with a steak-sized slab of foie gras and brioche. Alexandre tells us not to swirl our glasses. Unlike wine, which needs a swirl to release the aromas, swirling Cognac has little benefit, as it only releases the alcohol.

The XO is delicious – soft and smooth, with toffee apple, vanilla, lightly-whipped cream and a hint of lemon on the nose, and a spicy, woody, floral palate of cinnamon, iris, dried figs and marzipan. The creaminess of the wine blends wonderfully with the richness of the foie gras, making for an unashamedly decadent combination.

For the grand finale we try the Coeur de Cognac at room temperature with blood orange sorbet and on crushed ice with tarte tartin and vanilla ice cream. Aimed at a younger audience and for a more European palate, the Coeur de Cognac is fruit driven and smooth. Served in a magically light Riedel that almost floats out of my hand, on taking a sniff I'm whacked with a wall of alcohol and a nose of figs, smoke and strawberry shortcake. The palate is woody, with hints of dark chocolate and marshmellow that marry well with the vanilla ice cream.

Before we retire to the roof terrace to puff on Punch Habana cigars, a rather squiffy member of the group in a pink shirt and red braces stands up, glass in hand, and declares: 'Claret for boys, Port for men and Cognac for heroes' – I'll drink to that.

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