It takes courage – or foolhardiness, depending from where you’re standing – to make alterations to one of your most iconic products, especially when it happens twice in consecutive years. Martell’s Cordon Bleu has always been one stars in the cognac maker’s crown. Created by Edouard Martell in 1912, it became an instant success and has remained the cognac for connoisseurs. Within its hallowed halls, Corden Bleu is one of Martell’s most iconic achievements, which, by rights, secures its recipe from being tampered in anyway. Which is definitely not the case here.
To understand why Martell would venture with last year’s limited edition Cordon Bleu Intense Heat and this year’s Cordon Bleu Extra, a permanent addition to its range, its Cellar Master Christophe Valtaud says one needs to understand the spirit of the cognac maker. “At our house, we say ‘Be curious’ and that applies to both our consumers and those who work there – we always try to innovate to encourage our consumers to try new things,” he explains.
At the same time, Valtaud says, the challenge is there for Martell to grasp. “Edouard Martell’s recipe is perfect and it has never been copied. It is a cognac of exceptional taste, but it’s interesting to see what we can do with it. Last year, we added some woody notes through intense heat to created Cordon Bleu Intense Heat; this time around, we’re adding a twist to the recipe. It is a tribute to Cordon Bleu actually,” he says.
Cordon Bleu Extra, he admits, rose out of chance. “We have a stock of very old Borderies eaux-de-vie,” he says, referring to the smallest and most sought-after vineyard in Cognac, whose produce is one of the most distinctive elements of Martell’s cognacs. “Extra shares the same DNA as Cordon Bleu – you can recognise some of the same notes – but we’ve enhanced and reinterpreted these notes by adding this fine old Borderies eaux-de-vie.” Cordon Bleu, in terms of fragrances, has always been the most extravagant of all Martell’s cognacs – even just on the nose, it is punchy and spicy. Extra, however, has less of these spikiness but is more subtle and elegant, and with a much longer finish (see sidebar for tasting notes). It is rounded and mellow, yet still bold and deep, and, as in the finest cognacs, invites greater contemplation.
Pleased as he is with his new expression of such an iconic cognac, Valtaud recognises that it’s the circumstances at Martell that has allowed him to achieve this: “I’m able to make this blend because of the work my predecessors did in selecting this exceptional eaux-de-vie and allowing it to age. We use blends that range from 30 and 60 years old, which gives Extra its added refinement,” he explains. (The eaux-de-vie used in the normal Cordon Bleu range from 10 to 25 years old.)
“At Martell, we have very loyal customers who are attached to our products, cognacs that we’re very proud of, and have been and will always be part of our heritage. At the same time, we are encouraged to innovate and experiment, as consumers these days are also more willing to try different things,” he says. Some things, however, never change: “Innovate, yes, but you can never change the style of the house. The legacy I inherited is more than 300-years-old, and my duty is to keep the balance between innovation and tradition. It’s not easy making a new product as we have the legacy of Martell to uphold, but that doesn’t mean we stay still. We may be more than 300 years old but we’re still alive and we will continue to move forward. Expect a lot from us – we’re not done yet.”
MARTELL CORDON BLEU EXTRA
ASPECT Amber, with a mahogany tone.
NOSE ‘Tarte Tatin’ notes with sweet spices, followed by fine notes of dried fruits like apricot, grapes, almonds.
PALETTE Well-rounded mellowness that opens vividly with blackcurrant notes, then the same dried fruits aromas. Elegant and balanced, with a sustained finish that is rich and luscious.