Premium dark spirits have long been on the rise in Australia, but cognac has largely flown under the radar.
That's about to change, according to veteran spirits executive Ian Atherton. His company Spirits Platform represents both The Macallan Single Malt Scotch Whisky and Remy Martin Cognac in Australia.
"With the resurgence of consumer interest in dark spirits, driven by the whisky category, we have seen significant increase in cognac growth, both volume and value, within the Australian market," Atherton says.
In fact, sales of cognac in Australia quietly increased by 12 per cent in the last year. Remy Martin's international brand ambassador, Thierry Arnold, recently visited Sydney and Melbourne to build on this foundation.
"Australia is still a small country in terms of volumes, but it is growing fast," he says.
Arnold was introducing Remy Martin XO Cognac – XO meaning 'extra old' – which is a blend of up to 400 different eaux-de-vie, each of which has been aged for a minimum ten years.
"If you think about the way of cognac making and the final product, you can easily compare it to the best of the best whiskies and rums," Arnold says.
"There are some eaux-de-vie inside Remy Martin that have been aged in barrels for up to 35 years.
"There's not much rum or whisky that can be aged 20 years… it's rare and also really expensive. For us, 20 years is middle-aged."
An artisanal drink
Cognac is of course a type of brandy that – similarly to sparkling wines labelled champagne – can be produced only in keeping with certain legal requirements in a specific area of south west France.
Arnold says the lengthy maturation and blending of so many different distillates is one factor that sets cognac apart from other brandies.
And Remy Martin XO is a 'Fine Champagne' cognac, meaning it has been distilled from grapes sourced exclusively from vineyards in cognac's top two cru, Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne (unrelated to champagne sparkling wines).
"The diversity of eaux de vie inside is incredible and the complexity is incredible," Arnold says.
He says Remy Martin XO is a symphony of fruity notes such as apple, pear, ginger and orange; rich floral notes of white flowers such as jasmine; and spicy characters such as vanilla, cinnamon, saffron and chocolate.
The perfect mix
This along with its tannin structure makes it a fine accompaniment to many different types of food, both sweet and savoury.
But Arnold says cognac is also underrated for mixing in cocktails. It has actually had a long tradition in drinks such as the sidecar, made with cognac, triple sec orange liqueur and lemon juice.
Aside from drinking it neat or on ice, he recommends trying a Remy Martin XO old fashioned, simple substituting the whisky for cognac.
"Yesterday I was at the Shangri-La Hotel [in Sydney], they made a beautiful old fashioned for all the guests. It was amazing," he says.
Click the gallery above for a selection of the most deluxe cognacs currently available in Australia.