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Martell Heads Home with L’or de Jean Martell Chateau Cognac

A new series of cognacs will be dedicated to France's great chateaux, starting with Martell's own.

By Alex Martin

For all the grandeur attached to it, Cognac is a surprisingly sleepy town. I roll in on a Tuesday morning to be met with empty roads. Traffic lights change for only themselves and several stores are shuttered, I suspect permanently. The home of a global industry, Cognac generates an estimated $5.5bn per year through the sale of its namesake brandy. Enough, you’d think, to justify a bit more hustle.

Admittedly, late December is not prime time for crowds. There is a tourism industry, evidenced by the charming five-star Hotel Chais Monnet, complete with a spa and a Michelin-starred restaurant. The suites are nice and the food is both very French and very good. Beyond its walls, however, options are limited.

But true to the unwritten rules of French culture, much of the hard work, and the rewards of it, are hidden from prying eyes. Come to Cognac as a guest of one of the great houses (Hennessy, Martell, Rémy Martin, Courvoisier) and a new world of luxury will soon be revealed.

Martell, the oldest of the four great houses, whisks its most valuable clients out of town to the Borderies. Here lies Château de Chanteloup, the Martell family’s grand estate since 1838. While the estate doesn’t go as far back as the cognac (Jean Martell started producing it in 1715), it is nonetheless positioned as the spiritual home of the brand. Multiple generations of the Martell family have lived here, surrounded by the vineyards that produced the wine that became their cognac.

[See also: A One-of-a-kind Louis XIII Tasting at Raffles London]

Martell dinner
Martell launch the new cognac in grand style / ©Martell

Today, the manor serves as an invitation-only hideaway for VIPs who wish to immerse themselves in the House of Martell’s history — and it’s a fitting place for the brand to showcase its art de vivre. That was on full display at the launch of an exclusive expression of cognac that is dedicated to the family home, L’or de Jean Martell Château de Chanteloup.

Accompanied by a live orchestra and a 22-course menu from Alexandre Mazzia, virtuoso chef of the three-Michelin-starred AM, Martell set the stage to unveil a new series of limited-edition cognacs inspired by France’s most prestigious chateaux, starting with its own. We walked into the family home in what felt like the dead of night. The estate’s deer were unmoved. Inside, a roaring fire and cocktails by celebrity mixologist Remy Savage were on offer in the quaint bar-cum-sitting-room.

[See also: Is Still Champagne French Wine’s Next Bright Spark?]

While the origins of the chateau date to the 16th century, this version of the house was built in the 1930s, which is modern in French terms. Its main lobby, with double-height ceilings and sparkling chandelier, is tailor-made for grand occasions such as this.

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L’or de Jean Martell Château de Chanteloup is one of Martell’s most complex cognacs ever and, at $7,500, one of its most expensive. Drawn from its most precious stocks and bottled in a bespoke Baccarat crystal decanter, the new release is limited to 1,000 decanters and will not be repeated.

Martell cognac
The new cognac will be limited to just 1,000 decanters / ©Martell

That’s unusual for a Cognac house, which often trades on its ability to re-create even the most complex blends every year. That repetition gives consumers a reliable product but removes each expression’s sense of place and time. Christophe Valtaud, a lifelong local and cellar master at Martell, has broken from tradition to pin this new cognac in the here and now.

“This is something we want to become collectible,” he told me. “Luxury products can’t be reproduced all the time. You must give more emotion if you want to create something truly unique. Compared to the previous, this is completely new.”

[See also: Perrier-Jouët Reveals $100,000 Edition of its 2008 Vintage]

To set this cognac apart, Valtaud blended over 1,400 eaux-de-vie (cognacs before they are aged and blended). To put that figure in context, many of those eaux-de-vie came from different plots of land in one of four distinct areas of the Cognac region. Martell works with 1,200 winegrowing families, and each has its own way of doing things. The grapes grow from unique soil and in unique conditions. Every step in the process is a separating factor.

By the time it gets to the blending stage, often after decades of aging, there is an entire spectrum of aromas, flavors and textures. Then it’s down to Valtaud to turn a proverbial wall of noise into a symphony. “The secret of a great cognac is the blending,” Valtaud said. “Each plot can give us different flavors to play with. Only when you blend all these flavors together do you create something unique. This is the difference between being an artisan and an artist. We have elevated this cognac with the art of blending.”

Christophe Valtaud, Martell’s cellar master and a lifelong Cognac resident / ©Martell

Once the blend was finalized, it got another touch of exclusivity with a period of aging in 300-year-old French oak barrels — 120 years older than normal. These ancient trees, first seeded in the House of Martell’s formative years, were chosen because they were reaching the end of their life cycle. Their additional age means their grains are finer, so less sugars are released into the cognac, and it ages more gracefully.

The result is a cognac bursting with dark fruits and floral notes, with just a hint of spice. That reflects perfectly on Château de Chanteloup, which sits in the heart of the Borderies region, known for producing particularly fruity cognacs. It goes against the stereotypical profile of an expensive cognac that dictates it should be both extremely old and full of drying, oaky textures. That is partly Martell’s signature, but also the way the market is moving.

“The key is to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the oldest cognac. The big difference is your emotion when you taste. [Old cognacs] are soft, woody, spicy — that can create memories. Now people want less wood, more fruit and more intensity. This new expression creates something surprising, and that is the target.”

L’or de Jean Martell Château de Chanteloup from $7,500. For information on how to visit Château de Chanteloup, contact visites@martell.com, +33 545 363 498, martell.com

[See also: The Whisky Exchange Cabinet Announces Glenlivet Drop]

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This article appears in the 04 Mar 2024 issue of the New Statesman, Spring 2024

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