How The New Martell Single Cru Tells The Stories Of The Famed Cognac Region

In 1715, when Jean Martell journeyed from Jersey in search of the world’s finest eaux-de-vie—French for ‘water of life’—he landed in Cognac and began establishing ties with the local winegrowers. In the process, he would chart a course for cognac the spirit as well as Cognac the region. Across the three centuries since, Martell’s eaux-de-vie and all its iterations have been an unmistakable presence at royal courts and glamourous Hollywood circuits, as well as appearing on the menus of history’s most luxurious modes of travel, such as the Queen Mary transatlantic liner, the Orient Express and the Concorde. It was even served as a peace offering and in celebration of the World War 1 armistice signing in Compiègne, France.

For its latest offering, one of the world’s oldest grand cognac houses reaches deeply into the very terroir that has birthed its exceptional eaux-de-vie stocks, in the process innovating the future of cognac. The Martell Single Cru, which debuts in Malaysia this month, is an invitation to travel Martell’s extensive vineyards and to savour the aromas and richness of these particular terrains that are distilled and focused into singular experiences. In many ways, it is a walk in the footsteps of Jean Martell, whose intrepid founding of his cognac company led to the multi-generational legacy of distinctive crus and vintages that are the building blocks of Martell cognac past, present and those yet to come.

Three centuries of poetry

In the capacious Martell building facing the Galienne estate, in which the Borderies cru are grown, a sensory journey awaits. An assembly of nosing glasses containing the Single Cru Editions are lined up for its inaugural reveal to a global audience. “In each village and at each vineyard, the cognac expresses different profiles,” explains Christophe Valtaud, Maison Martell’s cellar master. “This knowledge and importance of both local terroir and cru, which Jean Martell discovered, is what we have inherited and perpetuated across 300 years.”

It feels poetic in a sense that three centuries later, the house that bears its founder’s name would highlight the very essence of what had so impressed him to establish Martell in this corner of southwestern France. Granted, with the benefit of ageing as well as three centuries of savoir-faire, the eaux-de-vie used for the Martell Single Cru has also attained a profile and aroma that supersedes its 18th-century predecessors.

A thorough search through Martell’s vast depositories yielded 400 references (of tens of thousands of eaux-de-vie stocks) that the cellar masters deemed to be unique and rare expressions of single cru. “These 400 references represent less than one per cent of Maison Martell’s eaux-de-vie stocks,” Valtaud explains. From these, six unique expressions were formed. The first three Discovery Editions point to three main crus of the Cognac region, namely, Fins Bois (RM580), Petite Champagne (RM580) and Borderies (RM620). “Discovery is so named because it provides a genuine starting point of the three cognacs made of three terroirs,” Valtaud says.

With Fins Bois, vines reach below the surface layer of amber, red soil, traversing deeper into clay and hard limestone resulting in vivacious notes of lime and pink grapefruit, before they develop notes of fleshy white fruits; pears, peaches and apples. Petite Champagne, meanwhile, is characterised by spongy soils found in valleys dotted with streams and hillsides facing the sun. This, plus some time in French oak barrels, lends an aromatic intensity to the eaux-de-vie, where vanilla, cinnamon and stewed candied fruits segue to spicier notes of exotic woods.

Bringing it back to the vineyards of Gallienne, the Martell Single Cru Borderies showcases the signature cru that has long been the hallmark of Martell cognacs. The Borderies region—the smallest of the six distinct Cognac terroirs—boasts hills, woodlands and moisture intermingled with a top layer of clay and hardened flint beneath. In turn, the eaux-de-vie is mild and silky—bequeathing floral notes of white blossoms that progress into aromas of apricots, mangoes and dates. On the tongue, the cognac caresses with a harmony of mild flowers, fruits, undeniable nutmeg and oak.

Consonance of opulence

Just like the geography and soil of Cognac, an element that has remained unchanged is the house’s deep understanding of distilling eaux-de-vie to maintain its purity. Valtaud notes that the frequent rainfall and copious spring and summer sunshine of 2023 resulted in a fantastic harvest. Following the picking, the Ugni Blanc grapes are then pressed, crushed and, aided by yeast, turned into wine in large vats. The yeast, which falls and dies (called lees), is then removed, making for a clear and light eaux-de-vie that preserves the purity of the terroir instead of allowing the lees to interfere and create a heavier cognac profile like other cognac houses are wont to do.

Later that summer evening, guests assembled in the cavernous atelier of the cellar master, transformed into an exceptional dining room. It was here where the Single Cru first stirred to life in the practised hands of the cellar master, and it was here where both the aged XO and XXO Editions of the Single Cru Collection would be first sampled (RM1,440 and RM2,830 respectively). Providing the culinary canvas to the expressions was chef Alexandre Mazzia of three-Michelin-starred AM Restaurant in Marseille. The chef, who embarked on a four-year partnership with Martell starting in 2023, aptly displayed his mastery of ingredients with wild trout and salmon eggs marinated in sake, smoked milk, eel and dark chocolate, all combining in an exotic triumvirate to commence dinner proceedings.

With this came the Single Cru XXO Borderies, with its fresh, fruity characters and sweet floral notes. “I decided to create two cognacs, released in small batches and in limited numbered bottles,” Valtaud says. The other cognac would be the Single Cru XO Grande Champagne, with exquisite eaux-de-vie used to offer the power, structure and freshness enriched by the chalky soils. Mazzia’s culinary counterpoint would propose orange blossom couscous, mariniere-style clams and cockles, mojito-tarragon condiment and seaweed vinegar gel. The tastes of sea and shell would carry on with wild shrimps, crab, marinated langoustine, scallop granita and red mullet, while pears, hibiscus and blood orange tastes swooped in from the wings for ever-growing and wholly eclectic taste sensations.

The highlight of the Single Cru launch arrived the following day. At Château de Chanteloup—the ancestral home of Martell—a grand scene was set for guests. Under a velvet blue sky criss-crossed by vapour trails, and across the estate’s opulent lawn, music from a chamber group filled the air while scores of bartenders and phalanxes of wait staff offered drinks. And under sun-dappled leaves, guests were dressed in their finery enjoying Martell while awaiting the gala dinner—a symphony of East and West with chef Taklau Yuen of The Peninsula Paris’s award-winning Lili Chinese restaurant as well as Mazzia. “As I worked on the pairings for Martell Single Cru, I came to realise the full richness and complexity of the connections between cognac and my cuisine,” Mazzia says.

In a specially constructed al fresco dining room facing Château de Chanteloup, an interpretive dance to represent all six crus of the Cognac region kicked off proceedings. Each dinner course that followed would offer a universe of spices, smoked and toasted flavours, and ingredients ranging from wasabi and horseradish ice cream to Peninsula Kung Pao-styled asparagus, cashews and a line-caught hake caramelised with stay. For the final flourish, a dulce de leche and matcha green tea ice cream arrived with sweet potato, date, mango and verbena water, saffron pineapple sorbet and a Peninsula crispy citrus tart with black sesame and liquorice. “This is a new composition I created to accompany Single Cru Borderies 1999 with finesse rather than opulence,” Mazzia remarks. “Sweet potato brings a touch of spice, mango and date bring sweetness, while pineapple offers a freshness and silken flavour.”

To complement the ‘gourmet quality’ of the dish was the undoubted star of the evening, the sixth and final expression of the inaugural Martell Single Cru release: the Single Cru Borderies 1999 vintage (RM10,800). Across 23 years of ageing, it had arrived at a desirable aromatic plenitude, adjudged by Valtaud to have achieved the complete experience—from notes of candied fruit and linden blossom to complementary citrus hints, finishing with extraordinary smoothness, richness and fruit. “The delicacy of this Borderies cognac coats the entire palate, bringing out softness of honeyed oats, a sequence that reveals the infinite elegance of Single Cru Borderies 1999,” Vaultaud said. Earlier that day, Valtaud and his team of master blenders highlighted the natural advantages of making cognac where they work. From the terroir to the atmosphere of the cellars where summer humidity smoothens the sharpness of new spirit, the process of blending is a marriage of traditional methods as well as a life-long understanding of eaux-de-vie. “It’s pretty crazy to see the teamwork of seven blenders. All of them almost immediately will know if we love it,” Valtaud explains of the process of selecting the right eaux-de-vie at the right time. “That is always a difficult decision because we need to imagine its potential,” he says, adding with a smile: “We can do this thanks to our expertise.”

More photos of The Martell Single Cru Event


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