The Losh Cause – Cognac, an ageless art
Rémy Martin has unveiled its new offering - Coeur de Cognac - with customary Cognaçais pomp. But for Chris Losh, the company's announcement of the launch says as much about the art of Cognac PR as it does about the art of selection and blending.
So there I was, scratching my head and gawping out the window in search of inspiration for my next just-drinks column, when something arrived in my email in-box. I read it once and thought "that's interesting".
I read it again and chuckled to myself. On reading it a third time, I practically had to pick myself up off the floor. Well done Rémy for brightening up my day, and doubtless those of many other journalists who received news of your latest launch!
The 'that's interesting' element is the launch of Rémy's new Coeur de Cognac. The more chucklesome aspects came from the press release that went with it, which might be charitably described as a tad haughty, or simply bombastic by those less well disposed towards the hyperbole of the Cognaçais.
For example, the release includes the claim that "Rémy Martin's latest creation marks a radical return to the fundamental cornerstones that underpin its business philosophy: making quality Cognacs and mastering the art of blending".
It is not so much the self-promotion which makes one read this twice - after all such is to be expected from a launch press release and Cognac ones rarely disappoint - but the idea of a "return" to fundamental cornerstones may leave one asking whether these tenets have been neglected in recent years, as some of Rémy's critics might suggest.
Rémy continues by telling us that "over half of the spirits used come from Rémy's best vineyards in the Grande and Petite Champagne…" which means that almost half of this pricey new arrival does not, and could be made up of Borderies and Fins Bois. One's take on this depends, fairly literally in this context, on whether you are a glass half-full or a glass half-empty sort of person. The former may be inclined to give Rémy the benefit of the doubt. Those of a rather more cynical nature may not.
These may in the final analysis be points for the pedants to pick over but it is the decision not to age-statement the Cognac that is most interesting.
On this matter, the Cognac producer abandons some of its customary bravado and adopts a distinctively defensiveness tone. "The complexity of the maturity statements are intimidating," the release says dismissively. "Indeed, who understands the difference between VSOP and XO these days?"
To be fair, Rémy has a point here: age statements are confusing to consumers. But I'm not sure that this issue is relevant to this product. At the lower end of the market, consumer ignorance and indifference is rife, but once you get up to the GBP40 (US$80) level (the slated price for Coeur) I would imagine that most buyers would have some inkling of how age statements work.
And this, really, is where Rémy's business logic appears rather scrambled. The company claims that Coeur is both for the connoisseur, because it's "exciting and different" and also for the novice because it's an "easy entry into the intimidating world of Cognac".
The words 'cake' and 'eating it' spring to mind, with the suspicion that in trying to appeal to both it will end up appealing to neither. Will connoisseurs really want something that comes with no age or terroir guarantee? On the other hand, will those whose knowledge of brandy is limited to Three Barrels plunge straight into the Cognac category at GBP40? Frankly, I doubt it.
Hine's venture into non-age statementing (with H by Hine) made more sense. H is priced at around GBP20 a bottle and is simply packaged. And though I remain sceptical about the company's claim that it "could have called it VSOP but didn't want to", it is a far more plausible product than an equally non-age specific drink twice its price, however good it might be.
Maybe when you're monstrously wealthy GBP40 looks like a bargain and GBP20 looks tawdry, but my feeling is that Rémy has overpriced this by at least 30%. A less XO-like bottle and a lower price would have been a more coherent proposition.
I applaud Rémy's aim of injecting energy into the European Cognac market but I fear that Coeur de Cognac is unlikely to be the tonic the category is looking for.
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