Earlier this week I was invited to experience liquid perfection.
Over the years I'd read a lot about Louis XIII but I'd never had the chance to taste it. Few people have. So little of this precious spirit is made available each year that just finding a bottle can be a challenge, then there is the small matter of the not-so-small price tag. In fact, one can expect to pay in the region of R2,000 for a single tot in a South African restaurant or bar.
Forgive me for being so garish as to bring up money when discussing a work of art such as Louis XIII, but for some it's the only way to convey what a privilege it is to bring it to one's lips. In my case I was lucky enough to be treated to the full experience by the Louis XIII private client director, Jorg Pfutzner.
As if the prospect of tasting one of the best cognacs in existence wasn't enough, I was invited to meet for lunch at the Cape Grace's Signal Restaurant for lunch. Jorg was already waiting for me when I arrived, along with Jani Le Roux from Vivid Luxury, and before long we were enjoying a delicious meal over a glass of 2007 German Riesling.
Immaculately turned out and professional with a warm disposition, Jorg was everything you'd expect from the private client director of one of the world's most illustrious brands. After lunch he led the way to the Bascule Bar for my much anticipated introduction to the King of cognacs.
After placing the red leather carry case on the table along with two long-stemmed crystal glasses, Jorg pressed the gilded clasp to reveal the iconic carafe. It is said that the bottle was designed to replicate a metal decanter found in 1850 by a peasant on the site of the battle of Jarnac which took place in 1569. Originally made from glass, the Louis XIII bottle has been hand-blown in 24 carat crystal since 1936, each piece requiring the successive skills of eleven exceptional craftsmen.
Jorg poured a generous measure into my glass and, almost immediately, a beautiful floral aroma filled my nostrils. He then prompted me to dip my forefinger in the liquid and rub it onto the skin of my opposite hand. Without a word of hyperbole, it smelled like expensive perfume.
Finally it was time to sip. Doing as I was told, I placed a small amount of Louis XIII on my tongue and let it diffuse throughout my mouth. After an initial gentle spiciness, the delicate hints of dried fruit and roasted nuts began became gradually more intense as the liquid grew in viscosity, leaving an impression on my mouth long after it had gone.
"I always think of a silk scarf when I drink Louis XIII," said Jorg. "First it delicately floats on the wind before settling on your skin, then there is that beautiful sensation as you remove it."
Each sip of this wonderful cognac yields something different on the palate, the complexity and the lingering finish being the only constant. But aside from the intrinsic quality, opening a bottle of this rare cognac speaks to the romantic in each of us. The master blender rarely gets to taste his or her own creation; it's made to be a legacy to be enjoyed by future generations, just as the Louis XIII being enjoyed today was selflessly made by craftsmen of yesteryear. This in itself adds to the dichotomy of privilege and utter humility one feels when taking a sip. Some may questions whether any liquor is worth such a hefty price, but as I've argued before, the flood of emotion one feels when drinking something that took so much time and care to make is worth every cent. Powerful men have been known to weep at the poignancy of the experience, and I can see why.
Louis XIII is a triumph. It takes 600 barrels of cognac to produce one barrel of spirit considered worthy, each bottle a blend of 1,200 eau-de-vie ranging in age from 40 years old to over 100. When you consider the amount of time, expertise and attention to detail that goes into making Louis XIII, it becomes clear that this product isn't primarily about making money; it's a labour of love. It's a gauntlet first thrown down by the House of Remy Martin in 1874 when they sought to push the boundaries of distilling excellence.
When you buy a bottle of Louis XIII you are acquiring a cross section of the history, passion and quality that comprise the House of Remy Martin.
Article by Grant McDonald