Where time is a devouring tyrant, one can effortlessly imagine a 300-year old producer being stuck in a time warp and passé traditions. But that’s not the way the story played out for legendary cognac brand, Martell. Armed with the inheritance of a glorious heritage and an enviable savoir faire, Martell has marched into new chapters and territories with undeterred confidence and written many ‘firsts’ for the spirit. It’s a story spread over nations, that of merchants, royalties, wars, and celebrations, without which cognac is incomplete.
Much-Ado about Marell
Englishman Jean Martell travelled from the self-governing territory of Jersey to France and founded his eponymous company on the banks of the Charente in 1715. The true magic of Cognac was only a few decades young when the determined and ambitious Jean invested his fortunes in its soil. Since the 16th CE, Dutch merchants purchased wines from the region to ship back home. The wines would suffer the woes of transportation, turning into vinegar and thus deemed redundant. The innovative producers of the Cognac region began distilling and reducing them to a concentrated form, avoiding spoilage altogether. The Dutch called it Brandwijn, read burnt wine, hence brandy. A century later, the merchants began double distillation, which meant more space on the ships and, well, more monies. Cognac then was already being transported in oak casks, allowing merchants to discover that the taste of the beverage changed when stored in barrels, resulting in an exceptionally smooth dram of repute.
Though Jean started the house, his journey was short lived. After he passed away in 1753, his widow Rachel Martell, together with her children took the company to new heights. Martell went on to become the most sold brandy in England, crossed the Atlantic and docked in the US, and even impressed the Asian markets of Japan and China. Soon these brandies were brandished with newfound nomenclatures. Very Old Superior (VOS), and the further aged Very Old Superior Pale (VSOP) further upped their merit, declaring the coming of cognacs as richer, more profound, and the emblem of excellence. Jean’s great-grandson, Frederic, in 1831, introduced their family’s VSOP which took Martell’s repute and fortunes to even finer realms. But true glory came from England, where despite sanctions on French imports during the continental block, King George III ordered Martell’s VSOP to be exempt and allowed onto British shores! These special orders cemented it as a refined, superlative produce, fit for the kings, whose reach wasn’t bound by worldly politics.
Cognacs were entering a new era of style with handcrafted bottles, carefully selected closures, family’s crests and emblems, and eye-catching branding. With better control on what finally reaches the glass, Martell was to redefine quality, which even today remains its synonym. In 1848, Martell introduced their signature silver and blue coloured labels, which re-instated Martell’s design philosophy of being distinct, minimalist and contemporary. From here on, there was no looking back as Martell’s popularity soared, adding more prestige to its name. From being served at King George V’s coronation, to being presented to Queen Elizabeth II and Emperor of Japan, more and more royalties attached it to their honour and celebratory moments. Even the elite traveller couldn’t resist, sipping fashionably aboard the voyages on the Queen Mary, Concorde, and the Orient Express! Probably this is what helped cognac earn a reputation for being a certain drink for a certain occasion for a certain crowd, but all this rigid categorisation is now changing.
In the French flag, the blue ribbon denotes the highest class or standard of quality. Martell introduced their first XO Cognac, Cordon Bleu, which has had an unswerving position and respect among connoisseurs. This legendary Cognac blends spirits aged between 10-25 years, often distinguished by its elegant, complexity, and impeccable balance. From the first whiff its bold notes charm you with its confidence and ethereal finesse, the palate delivers luscious fruity aromas smoothly blended with leather, spice, chocolate, and oak. The Cordon Bleu is testament to why this brand is still a leader in its field, recognised for being accessible and easy to sip. It carved its name in history when it was served at the signing of the World War I armistice. How can you not be at peace while holding a snifter?
Lading from the front
Since the beginning, Martell has been the beacon that’s guided the cognac fraternity. Be it marching into uncharged markets, consistently innovating new labels, or hosting the most luxurious galas at their chateaus and palaces. The arc in the Martell XO bottle signifies the family keeping a firm grip on its past while mindfully modernising for the future. Martell has dared to be different and has chosen to walk its own line with class actors and jazz musicians as its ambassadors. And it’s still leading from the front, with the newly introduced Martell Blue Swift, the first-ever cognac VSOP finished in bourbon casks, Martell has inspired producers to think outside the box and break the shackles of being tied down with an image that’s long due for renovation! Who would have thought, but if it was, we expected it from the house of Martell.
In the new world of craft and fast-moving spirits, cognac is an underdog. It may come with a pricey tag, but the value exceeds the price by far. When you sip a Martell, there’s a value of history, of a family that’s worked for generations to preserve the craftsmanship bestowed by legacy and nurtured by constant innovation; the celebrations of terroir, and the patience of letting nature take its course with every precious drop from the still. Away from the stodgy origins of an image that found resonance with grandfathers reading leather-bound Britannicas, rocking to nostalgic music on old chairs next to a fireplace is wearing thin. Cocktails or a simple Cognac and Ginger with a squeeze of lime and a mint sprig for a fresh garnish can be the new sip to redress an old spirit. It’s one of the most versatile and classy dark spirit. It has never shied away from finding room in any setting. Give it a shot, if not anything else, you’ll get a date with royalty, and it may just leave you with an accent!