Louis XIII, Rémy Martin’s crowning creation, originally casked in 1874, was opened for business at Palacio de Memoria.
Louis XIII: So much history in a bottle
THE X-PAT FILES - Scott Garceau (The Philippine Star) - August 8, 2019 - 12:00am

I’m not a ritualistic person by nature. I don’t trouble the insides of churches too often, nor do I necessarily line up for the latest movie/restaurant franchise opening; hell, I don’t even like sitting in the same chair for dinner every night.

But I do make an exception for the rituals of Rémy Martin, the makers of Cognac Grand Champagne Louis XIII (or “Louis Treize”), who maybe once a year trot out a bottle of their 1874 masterpiece and uncork it with friends at a select dining spot. So last week it was a sitdown Cognac tasting with media guests at Palacio de Memoria, a luxe seven-story pre-war mansion facing Manila Bay that’s now an auction house with a lawn littered with red Ferraris and private planes, and a stuffed tiger on the stairs. Inside, media guests were invited to a luncheon catered by Florabel — pan-fried foie gras, prawn bisque, mushroom ravioli with crisp prosciutto and US Angus short ribs in fig sauce, paired with bottles of Robert Mondavi — before, of course, a taste of Louis XIII as the pièce de résistance.

Guiding us through the special tasting was Asia-Pacific director of Louis XIII Vincent Gere (pronounced “ja-RAY”). I asked him how many bottles of the amber elixir actually exist in the world. “We never disclose the amount,” he said, smiling his Gallic smile, “so if I tell you, I would have to kill you.” There are worse ways to go than death by Louis XIII, I suppose.

Asia-Pacific director of Louis XIII Vincent Gere

Louis XIII being such a precious commodity, it’s not surprising that Gere considers it “a masterpiece of time” and the holy grail of distilled spirits. “A lot of wine and spirit makers speak of aging, but after 50 years in a barrel, you have reached the limit. There are just a few diamonds and gems that will last the distance, last forever.” 

He adds that “Rémy Martin was the pioneer, the inventor of the crazy idea that drink would be a luxury item.” Since then, it’s become the drink of presidents, kings, queens, royalty and rock stars. “When something important happens, what do they reach for to celebrate? Louis XIII. So by doing this, we are saying to all the famous people who have enjoyed it over the years, ‘This is our time.’”

Later, Louis XIII private client director for Southeast Asia Chris Kwek explains the history of the stylish decanter: based on a bottle that was unearthed in 1569 after the Battle of Jarnac, reportedly by a horse’s hoof. The most expensive Louis XIII bottle ever? The Louis XIII Salmanazar, a 9-liter crystal decanter that reportedly goes for $450,000.

After the history lesson, we sit down, we dine, we engage in conversation. And we wait for the bottle to open.

Eventually, Gere uncorks our first ritual: each time a bottle of Louis XIII is served, the person who helps open it makes a wish. After that, the bottle is poured, and Gere leads us through an appreciation of the classic amber liquid, an eaux-de-vie made from over 1,200 different blends.

He holds up a crystal glass, notes it’s not too dark, not too light. “When you look from above at the glass, it’s like looking up from inside a cathedral,” he says, as Kwek wanders around helping people place their cellphones lenses over the rim to take an IG shot — sure enough, it’s like a dome of amber light. So maybe he meant that “holy grail” literally.

A luxury brand house deserves a luxury setting.

Gere then noses his glass. “You start by smelling it, like a perfume you can drink. It will start to tickle your nose” as it releases floral notes. After this layer, he invites us to hover above the glass. “You will find a sweetness, like honey from a beehive, like jam or candy.” Like most wines, this may stir sense memories. For Gere, it’s a memory of his mother cooking fig jam one day in the summer. For me… er, I’d probably have to sample quite a bit more to jog my memory.

Once you actually stick your nose in the glass, you detect “earthy, more masculine notes” — mushrooms, something of the cask. “That’s 100 years,” says Gere. And we sip — but just a single drop on the tongue, letting it linger. As rituals go, there’s something to be said for delayed gratification: the finger or so of Louis XIII we’re served should be savored. Because, like time, it’s finite. Or something profound like that.

Before we take the first full sip, we clink those crystal glasses — and it’s a full, round sound, the combination of so many glasses ringing out like church bells. (That cathedral again!)

At this point, we shrug and simply drain our glasses in one gulp, unable to linger on a Proustian level for much longer, and try to make the taste last as long as possible on the back of the throat. Santé! Or, bottoms up, until next year.

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