Time is of the essence when it comes to ensuring the quality of a fine cognac, and it’s this slow ageing that takes place in the barrels which – in addition to the terroir, distillation and blending – plays such an important role. Sawubona went behind the scenes with Martell in Cognac, France.
While machines are used to cut the wood, most of the barrel-making process is dependant on humans – a beautiful example of true craftsmanship.
The choice of wood and type of barrel used affects the flavour of the eaux-de-vie (the colourless brandy that is produced through fermentation and distillation). New wood barrels lend a strong wood taste, while barrels that have previously held eaux-de-vie ensure a subtler flavour.
Martell barrels are made of oak wood from trees planted in the Tronçais style – the oaks are planted close together, allowing in little light, thereby slowing the saplings’ growth rate. The result is fine-grain oak wood, which in cognac terms means a lighter and more delicate flavour.
Another influence on taste is the “toasting” of the barrels – a process whereby the inside of the barrel is burnt gently to release the oak flavours. The more the barrels are burnt, the more prominent the wood flavours. The Martell barrels are lightly toasted to preserve the delicate flavour of the eaux-de-vie.
Cognac is aged for a minimum of two years, although most are aged for much longer. During this quiet time, a delicious transformation takes place. The clear eaux-de-vie takes on an amber hue and its aromatic personality develops. In the case of Martell and courtesy of the fine-grain oak, beautiful notes of vanilla, dried fruit, red fruit, chutney and dried flowers abound.
Martell VS Single Distillery is blended from eaux-de-vie derived from a single distillation source for a supremely smooth blend. Get it at selected liquor outlets nationwide.
Try these delicious Martell cocktail recipes which are perfect for long summer days.
Photographs: Shaun Mallett