Even the legendary DJ Derrick “D-Nice” Jones is a fan.
Cognac has been around for a long time. The iconic grape brandy native to the Charentes River Valley of southwestern France has a history stretching back to the 1500s. In fact, it’s one of the oldest categories of spirit on the planet — and one of the most traditional. All this is to say, it’s not every day that something entirely new enters the space. But the folks behind Martingale are betting big that modern drinkers are ready for a “fresh take.”
Earlier this month, the brand launched in the U.S., positioning itself as a “Cognac for a new generation … made precisely for today’s palate.” What does that mean, exactly? Let’s uncork a bottle and find out.
Martingale is the brainchild of Guillaume Thomas — a former executive for Pernod Ricard — and his expert blender cousin Amaury Thomas. Although their approach to the category is novel, their family has been humbly distilling the liquid in the tiny village of Ars (pop. 736) for over a century.
Whereas most cognacs in bottles today are assembled from a vast array of different distilleries, often concentrating on the characteristics of a specific cru, Martingale is pretty much the reverse. It's wholly produced at the Thomas family distillery and builds a balance from a wide range of crus — four of Cognac's six official geographic areas.
"As the fourth-generation custodians of one of the most coveted domaines in the appellation, my cousin and I believe we are delivering a beautiful paradox by releasing our first-ever product with a fresh, creative, and unexpected take," says Guillaume. "But it also happens to come from one of the most credible places in the region, and because of its freshness and elegance, we believe Martingale will broaden the appeal of cognac."
The first thing you notice when pouring out the liquid is its honeyed hue. It doesn't sit in the glass as dark as is usually expected of the category. The theme carries through into the aroma and palate of the expression, as well. It holds a sort of candied lemon on the nose, with subtle nods to the fresh fields of spring. The first sips are light and bright, brimming with orchard fruit and delivering a touch of cracked black pepper in its ephemeral fade.
It's a sophisticated beverage, to be sure. But it arrives at complexity without having to mine the robust rancio, leather, and tobacco notes typifying its luxury counterparts already on shelves. It drinks not unlike a well-composed Speyside single malt. And its purposeful florality lends itself quite naturally to a highball preparation—poured over ice with soda water. It's probably no coincidence, then, that Guillaume brought over some of his friends from the Scotch trade to help bring the product to life. This very well might be a cognac for whisky drinkers.
But it's still a cognac for cognac drinkers, which is how it won over the affection of Derrick "D-Nice" Jones. The legendary DJ, rapper, and record producer became a key investor in Martingale after meeting with Guillaume early on in its development.
"The relationship and initial conversations just felt natural," he tells Food & Wine. "There were a few things that stood out about the family vision and this new brand: the legacy story is something you just can't make up. And it was clear that there was expertise and real knowledge, along with passion."
The familial heritage is one that personally resonates with D-nice. It's an aspect that's even reflected in the design of the bottle itself. The glass features beveled etching meant to evoke the large stone walls of Chateau d'Ars, a sprawling estate that's been in the Thomas family for three generations. The brand's logo mimics the green stained-glass window that still sits above the entryway to the 17th-century mansion.
Though D-Nice's association with the liquid is relatively recent by comparison, it's still a drink that he's loved for decades.
"Cognac is a drink that has been intertwined with me since my early rap days," he recalls. "I have early memories of cognac being part of major celebrations. My earliest memory is with my uncle in the '80s. He bought me a bottle of cognac to celebrate my first musical production, selling 500,000 copies."
But beyond the liquid and any heartening origin story is a cold, hard fact that Martingale addresses a surprising gap in the otherwise booming cognac category.
"There is a large opportunity in the U.S. spirits market within the $80 -$150 pricing segment, where curious and engaged consumers are looking for extremely high-quality products," says Thomas. "Cognac brands have somewhat underserved this segment, which generally falls between VSOP and XO."
Martingale, which intentionally avoids listing its age categorization, is priced at $120. Coming to market with a single product priced in the super-premium range might seem risky to some. But very little was left to chance here. Even the name of the brand itself refers to a betting strategy in which winning is an inevitability. So while this is a gamble, Thomas, D-Nice, and the company clearly feel comfortable with all their chips on the table. All 15,000 bottles of Martingale Batch 1, meanwhile, are now on the shelf.
For more Food & Wine news, make sure to sign up for our newsletter!
Read the original article on Food & Wine.