Once upon a time we all used to drink brandy. We used it in the morning with soda water to freshen an appetite, a sniff after lunch to settle the stomach and a glass or two of the vintage stuff to accompany our cards in the evening. But you must be at least over sixty years old to have the slightest memory of this scenario. In the past half century, the cognac has almost disappeared from our tables, to be replaced by whisky in the evenings and nothing at all during the day. So when Rémy Martin invited me to come and spend 48 hours in Cognac, my aged frame said yes.

The invitation ties in with the introduction of their new VSOP Mature Cask Finish. Made using the same high quality blend of eaux-de-vie and the same period of aging as Rémy Martin VSOP, the Mature Cask Finish takes its name from the developed finishing process, in which the eaux-de-vie spends one year in Limousin mature oak casks that are over 20 years old to produce a smoother cognac with enhanced fruity notes of peach and apricot – so they tell me. It’s certainly silky and much more refined than straight VSOP, which it will replace as the entry-level bottle in Europe. It’s certainly true that Rémy age for longer than is legally required under the appeletion controlee.

The memories came back in the rush when we were offered, and accepted, two different aperitifs which were both refreshing and yet clearly based on cognac. The meal was incredibly good but the brandy was better with both VSOP and XO to make the evening perfect. The next day we were given a tour of the vineyards, all of which are located in the Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne area, which were cold and neat as a vineyard should be, when there is nothing to do but to look forward to the next meal. Of course, my hosts thought otherwise and we were taken to one of the places where the brandies are tasted and blended, initially. The original wines are vinified immediately, then distilled twice. This is the major difference between Armagnac and Cognac. They would like me to point out that Rémy Martin has been doing this since 1724 and the product traditionally is of exceptional quality and taste. 100% of their grapes are from ‘Appellation Fine Champagne’, the two best areas in the heart of the Cognac region being Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne. 

After a light lunch in Touzac, heart of Cognac country, in which more aperitifs failed to diminish my interests, I was taken round to one of the RM cooperages where the barrels are made and then stored. The Limousin oak has large pores, which lead to faster evaporation and contribute to the brandy’s vanilla finish. After this, it was time to start drinking again. We are taken back to Cognac and led into the Louis XIII room where, in the company of cellar master, Pierrette Trichet, who happens to be a cellar mistress, we are shown the actual process of distinguishing the normal Cognac from the finer materials. Suffice it to say that I was so struck by the beautiful texture and smoothness of these wines that, much as I admired VSOP Mature Cask Finish, I splashed out on a bottle of XO Excellence. Naturally, there’s now an inch of the precious stuff left in it, as I write. But remember, I am over sixty years old.