Established in 1715 by Mr. Jean Martell, a merchant from the Island of Jersey who came to the Cognac region of France in order to produce and trade in high quality spirits, the Martell house is the oldest among the big Cognac houses. The list also includes the well-known Hennessey, Remy Martin and Courvoisier maisons.
By the middle of the 18th century Martell was shipping significant quantities of Cognac to England and other European neighbors. Jean Martell’s sons and grandchildren went on to develop the family business, and 100 years later, Martell Cognac was being sold in the Far East as well, going as far as China and Japan. The Martell maison was later bought by the Seagram’s corporation before switching over to its current owner, international alcohol conglomerate Pernod Ricard.
For many years Cognac was considered by many as a rather “serious” drink, slowly sipped from tulip or balloon-cognac glasses and often served at the end of a meal as a digestif, alongside dark chocolate desserts and a nice cigar. Today, we are seeing Cognac brands that are trying to appeal to a younger crowd, offering special and colorful limited edition bottles and encouraging the use of fine Cognacs as a base for cocktails, relying on premium spirits from the VSOP or XO categories. This may seem sacrilegious to some, including renowned mixologist David A. Embury who wrote in 1948, "To mix this nectar of the gods with any other substance whatsoever-even a single drop of water—would be sacrilege, pure and simple." On the one hand, I agree with Embury, but I have to admit that especially during these warm summer days, I do enjoy a nice Cognac based cocktail and the higher quality the Cognac, the better.
300 years after the Martell brand was launched in Cognac, I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Christophe Pienkowski, Martell’s International Heritage Brand Ambassador in Tel Aviv for a tasting and food pairing accompanied by different Cognacs from the Martell house. Martell is imported and distributed in Israel by the James Richardson Company which also operates the duty free at Ben Gurion Airport.
It was evident that Pienkowski is very passionate about the Martell and its Cognacs and after serving as an executive chef at the Martell estate and guest house - Chateau de Chanteloup, he assumed the role of Brand Ambassador and travels spreading the Martell word.
“Martell’s philosophy is reflected in our style of pure, soft and elegant Cognacs” said Pienkowski, “relying on white grape varieties like the Ugni Blanc, from Cognac’s four finest growth areas, we like to use grapes from the Borderies region which often result in a rounder Cognac with distinct nutty notes. Our signature Cordon Bleu label which is in the XO category, relies primarily on eaux-de-vie from the Borderies” He added. Most people see Cognac exclusively as an aperitif or a digestif, but at Martell we try to break beyond those barriers and have created a complete gastronomic experience, pairing fine foods with Martell Cognacs.”
Of the four Cognacs we sampled (VS, VSOP, Cordon Bleu and XO), I would highly recommend Martell’s entry level VS Cognac which is smoother and more approachable when compared to others in its category. It will also serve as a nice and affordable cocktail base. The Cordon Bleu was also very enjoyable, rich and flavorful with good texture on the palate and generous notes of dried fruits, sweet spices and lightly toasted nuts leading to a long-clean finish.