Confession: I’m not well versed when it comes to wine and spirits. Don’t get me wrong, I love a yummy cocktail as much as the next chica, but I have never been one of those sophisticated ladies who can describe a cognac’s flavor profile or woodsy notes.
So, when the opportunity to travel to Cognac, France for four days (with a crew of amazing journalists and creatives) to get my education on about D’USSÉ (pronounced dew-say) came along, it was a sign. Somebody, somewhere, somehow knew about my desire to strut into 2018 with new, delicious palate pleasers and smarts about the process to boot.
Before heading to France, here’s what I knew about D’USSÉ:
1) Jay Z, in his infinite lyrical wisdom, told me that D’USSÉ was the sh*t in Beyoncé’s Drunk in Love. And Jay should know, he “leads global strategy” for the brand. (D’USSÉ Cognac is a partnership between Shawn Carter and Bacardi Limited).
3) And folks with discerning tastes said D’USSÉ was paving the way for the revival of cognac.
That said, in the grand scheme of how this liquid gold is made, I didn’t know nada. Seriously. There’s science, history, tradition (200 years!), French oak barrels and unmistakable care that goes into making sure that what is harvested in September at Rechou Vineyard, distilled from November to March and ends up in my glass—neat (no ice or mixers) or as part of a D’USSÉ Namon—is a masterpiece.
And I say that without exaggeration. I had rare glimpse into the meticulous process, courtesy of Michel Casavecchia, the Master Cellar of the majestic Château de Cognac and the creator of D’USSÉ VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale) and D’USSE XO (Extra Old); and Phillippe Jouhaud, D’USSÉ’s sales and marketing director; and Eve Rechou the boss lady who showed us around the sprawling acres of her family’s Rechou Vineyard in Grand Champagne. This vineyard is where it all begins. There’s a huge, yellow machine that travels each row to collect grapes that are turned into wine that’s fermented and later slow burned and transferred into oak barrels.
You know the expression, it just gets better with time? Well, that applies here. While humans attempt to fight the aging process with wrinkle cream and surgery, old age is a secret weapon for this cognac. VSOP is aged for almost five years and when it’s time to be savored, it emerges with rich and woodsy notes and some “cinnamon and floral” ones too. Plus, there are hints of dried fruit and honey.
For XO, Casavecchia requires the eau-de-vie (water of life) to be aged for a decade before the masses can enjoy it. The French oak barrels are key to both the VSOP and the XO and to provide depth of flavor. XO delivers “rich flavor notes of blackberry and apricot, layered with hints of chocolate and walnut.”
Years and hella patience aside, dry and humid cellars at the Château de Cognac are key factors in D’USSÉ’s smooth taste. Who knew that dry cellars produce spicy notes, while humid ones produce fruit flavors? Casavecchia does. He has 25 years in the game and it’s his job to know these crucial details.
Oh, and the Château de Cognac just happens to be the home where King François I once lived. That wasn’t lost on me as we toured the castle and sipped three different cocktails—the Cognac Gimlet, the Legacy and the Smuggler and dined on a four-course meal. After dinner, we danced to the sounds of Jay's "Made in Amerca" performance in the Château’s outdoor lobby until 3 a.m., because that’s what you do when you’ve dined where royalty used to sleep—you Milly Rock on any block. Who knows when that will happen again? (I suspect that once Meghan Markle marries Prince Harry, she’ll do a mean two-step over there in London.)
We ended each night with XO neat (seen below), but the Smuggler (VSOP Cognac, Benedictine, lemon juice and sparkling apple juice) was one of my favorites. Two more refreshing faves were the D’USSÉ Summit (D’USSÉ VSOP Cognac, ginger, lime, and lemonade) and the Frozen D’USSÉ, which was chilled for 48 hours and served with a local smoked fish and chives at Le Bistro de Claude.
Before traveling to France to learn so much about D’USSÉ and the three-phase distilling process, my thoughts about the spirit were very limited. An image of mustached men wearing smoking jackets and retiring to a stuffy library with cigars and glasses of cognac played on a loop in my head. I blame old TV movies for that visual. But after tasting it directly from one of those French oak barrels and over gourmet meals, like oxtails with cèpes (mushrooms) and roasted black mullet, that picture has been replaced with a memory of my amazing journo crew lifting our glasses to salute each other with a sweet santé (cheers) before each meal. And yes, cigars and cognac were part of the situation at the Château de Cognac, but we took our cue from Kendrick Lamar and made it look sexy.
After traveling to France, here’s what I know thanks to D’USSÉ:
1) It’s the perfect ingredient to remix classic cocktails, like a Sidecar or coquito. (Yes, coquito, I was shocked too, but it’s true.)
2) The Frozen D’USSÉ will be the required sip for all girls night in activities.
3) This cognac does get better with time.
Follow me: @TaiiaSmartYoung