Internationally famous King of Cognac talks about the pleasures of "collecting, admiring and tasting"

  Source: March 23, 2015 Hong Kong Economic Journal
By Lam Yi Shun
Photography: Gary Kwok
Venue: KEE Club

The American author William Young once said, 'A bunch of grapes is beautiful, still and pure, but it is only the fruit only; after being squeezed, it becomes a kind of animal, as it later turned into wine, there is the animal's life.' Therefore, cognac - the essence extracted from the most outstanding white grapes of France - is termed 'L'eau de Vie', the Water of Life.
This year is the 300th anniversary of Martell, one of the four most prestigious brands of Cognac. We have invited collector Mr Man's Chan, known as 'King of Cognac' by connoisseurs, to share with us in detail the beauty of cognac.
Mr. Chan is a qualified cognac educator (BNIC) with a gold medal. His first rule of thumb to enjoy cognac is to have it neat, as he says adding ice will lower the temperature of the cognac, and therefore making the aromas less fragrant.

Mr. Man's Chan talked about what are the qualifications to be regarded as cognac - must be made in the region, and in fact, it is a type of brandy
Mr. Chan, Chairman of Hong Kong Miniature Liquor Club, said after the white grapes go through distillation twice, and further married in the casks, eventually becomes amber in colour, that is how the cognac liquid is produced
He also shared that there are many "rankings" of cognac, for example:
- VS means "very superior/" 3 stars", "entry level" of cognac - must be married at least 3 to 4 years
- VSOP means "very superior old pale" and must be married at least 4 to 6 years
- Napoleon must be married at least 6 to 7 years
- And highest ranking/best in quality would be XO ("extra old"), which means it must have been married 10 years or above
- Some XO can go up to over 25 or even 50 years if marrying
As for the casks, there are also very strict requirements. It has to be made with a certain type of wood - oak in the forest of France
During the process of marrying, around 2% of the liquid gets evaporated and it is called "angel's share"
He recommends if you are a first timer to enjoy cognac who is trying the Martell "3 star VS", try chilling it in the fridge as it won't be as strong, hence "easier" to consume
Mr. Chan also suggested that at times, we should treat cognac like red wine - briefing them before drinking for at least an hour, in order to make the liquid more flavourful. The more "old" the cognac is, the longer it should be briefed (this is related to the content of Tannins in the liquid and bottle)
For a bottle of cognac that is 35 YO, Mr. Chan would suggest briefing it for 2 to 3 hours; for 60 to 80 YO, he would brief them for 5 to 6 hours etc. For a bottle of Louis XIII, he would suggest briefing for half day, if not, it would be such a waste as you won't be truly enjoying the essence of it
Today, cognac isn't a mass produced/consumed product. For this reason, it is relatively more expensive in the market
In the early days, only nobles are able to afford and enjoy cognac
As of now, cognac takes about only 2% of the wine and spirit market and even in France, there isn't a big population that knows how to enjoy cognac
On contrary, when the HK economy was booming in the 80s, cognac was extremely popular in the region. But given nowadays the change in economy, China appears to be the biggest market for cognac
Mr. Chan has been the Chairman of the Hong Kong Miniature Liquor Club for many years, and has been known as the King of Cognac by overseas collectors
He has over 14,000 bottles of spirit miniature, but most of them are cognac
In 1995, he spent over HK$1 million to purchase 6,000 bottles of miniature in France (from a man who produced casks for Remy Martin). And adding on to his existing collection of 4,000 bottles of miniature he got from the US, he eventually became the King of Cognac (in terms of quantity and quality)
He has also been interviewed by Times Magazine before too
The four big brands of cognac are Hennessey, Martell, Remy Martin and Napoleon, all representing the highest quality of cognac in the world. This year, it is Martell's 300th anniversary, Mr. Chan is happy to share and talk about part of his collection on Martell
- A bottle that was made in the 50s - Martell "silver ribbon", which is over 60 YO already, is the first bottle made with crystal by Martell. The bottle design is delicate with superb craftsmanship, a very rare collectable item he found in Italy 10 years ago and estimates the worth approximately HK$50,000
- L'Art Martell - limited edition (1997 bottles were made only) in celebration of the handover of HK to China. The design was inspired by the swallow, a Chinese metaphor of "the swallow returning to its nest". The stopper was made by the famous glass making brand Daum and is estimated worthy of approximately HK$50,000 to $60,000
When it comes to Martell, it was also regarded as "the night club lady's drink" in the 80s - Martell Cordon Bleu, also known as "the blue ribbon"
The reason why it got its name is because the quality is very good, and won't give hangovers the next day even if the nightclub ladies drink a lot the previous night. In addition, it also gives a sense of prestige to those who order this at the clubs (as it is known to be the best cognac)
Interestingly, the "original" or "older" version of Martell Cordon Bleu was actually designed with a red ribbon instead
A bottle of 60s Martell Cordon Bleu would worth around HK$10,000 nowadays
There are also some products from Martell that we cannot put a price tag on due to its extremely rare stock and value

The 250th anniversary edition, produced 50 years ago - only sold in a the Martell castle in France, comes in a magnificent crystal bottle. Mr. Chan has not seen another bottle of this in the market by far
Extra - produced in the 70s (over 80 YO now), symobolises the "rise of cognac in Hong Kong" and was sold by the first HK trading company - Dodwell & Co., Ltd. The bottle has the trading company's label on it hence making this collectable so precious

Mr Chan's liquor collection consists of more than 14,000 bottles during peak periods. Now he has come to understand that quality matters more than quantity. He now keeps around 5,000 bottles of fine selection.