Spring 2007

 

 

 


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A new bottle
Dan Ratté

            Easy now, don’t rush right into opening, pouring and swilling. Pause to admire the way the light refracts through the amber liquid. Read the label. Find out what you’re drinking. Navan, a blend of rare cognacs and Madagascar black vanilla. Read the sealing stamp before you tear it: Fondeé Maisson 1893. Remove the cap.
            The proper vessel for a fine cognac is thin glass or crystal, bulbous at the bottom, tapering slightly to the top to allow the concentration of the vapors. Make sure it’s clean and clear. Pour a small amount of the liquor into the glass and swirl it around, coating the inside. Pour a little more. Take a smell. Don’t be shy, stick your nose all the way in there. Concentrate on the various aromas wafting up from the glass. What do you smell? Rich vanilla? Sweet honeysuckle? Mellow-savory woodsmoke? Give it another swirl to open up the cognac, letting more oxygen into it. Take another big whiff and then a sip. Not a gulp or even a swill, but a small sip; just enough to coat your tongue.
            As you breathe, the liquor evaporates and fills your head with a complex array of scents, flavors and feelings. The tip of your tongue tingles while the very center of your tongue burns. On the sides you taste the rich, bittersweet essence of aged wine while the very back of your tongue registers the subtly sweet essence of vanilla. After a moment the saliva glands at the back of your mouth begin to gush, diluting and dispersing the flavors. When you exhale, the potent flavors give way to the more delicate aromas of the cognac. The vapors of the alcohol carry the scents of raw honey, orchids and savory-sweet hardwood-smoke through your sinuses and nasal cavities. Then, as rapidly as they bloomed, the flavors and scents collapse upon themselves into your throat and down your core as you swallow, warming all the way.
            A good cognac will feel like a drop of liquid sunshine as it slides down the tube from your mouth to your stomach. When it comes to rest there, you should feel a radiant warmth, almost as though you’ve swallowed a very gentle, persistent heat source. Your mouth and sinuses will retain only a memory of the bouquet of flavors and aromas.
            Now, reconsider the glass in your hand. Give it another swirl and watch the dappling effect the golden-amber liquid has on the back of your hand. A good cognac will never be cloudy or dull and should not impede light beyond giving it a gold-ish hue. Take another whiff (for good measure) and then let the cognac come to rest in the bottom of the bulb. Holding the glass by the stem, put it up to the light, tilting slightly so as to look at the light with the cognac as a filter. See how it refracts the light? It should be so clear and so light that you can read words through it. In the right kind of glass, a fine cognac will actually magnify print while softening the white glare of the paper it is written on.
            Slowly, gently take another sip. Somewhat larger this time. You are no longer exploring, but rather savoring and appreciating now. Still, take it slowly. Cognac is not a thing to be rushed. It is an expensive indulgence, and you would merely waste your money and your time shooting it or chugging it or god forbid using it to mix a drink. There is a multitude of cheap booze for you if your main goal is getting drunk. Cognac will relax and intoxicate, but the purpose of a fine cognac is the enrichment of your soul.

 

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