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Toasting the drink that Napoleon adored

COGNAC drinking has somewhat of a macho image in China with television advertisements positioning the drink as the sophisticated man's celebratory dram. Sam Riley savors the world of Courvoisier.

One of the world's most famous cognac brands, Courvoisier, launched in China last week, in a glamorous event in the grounds of the residence of the French Consul General in Shanghai.

There was the prerequisite actor wearing sunglasses at night and plenty of French style as the brand that lays claim to be Napoleon's favorite drop celebrated its push into the massive Chinese market.

So the story goes, Napoleon visited the Courvoisier warehouse in 1811 and was so taken by the cognac three years later he took several barrels with him to keep him company during his exile on the Isle of St Helena. Supposedly, his English captors so appreciated the warming drop offered by their prisoner that they called it Napoleon's brandy and the name stuck.

Diplomatic plumage was also on display, with French Consul General Thierry Mathou on hand to help launch one of France's iconic brands.

Also on hand to add a touch of glamor to the evening's function were actors Zhang Hanyu and Anthony Wong.

Cognac drinking has somewhat of a macho image in China with television advertisements of robust males clinking glasses of amber liquid positioning the drink as the sophisticated man's celebratory dram.

If Courvoisier's launch is anything to go by, they will attempt to refine cognac's image, with the brand aiming to appeal to both the novice and the connoisseur.

For the connoisseurs, Courvoisier flew out its master blender Jean-Marc Olivier who hails from the French region of cognac and whose highly developed palate can detect the lingering bouquet of a particular cognac, which can include a range of exotic characteristics such as "cigar leaves" or "ginger cookies."

And for the novice cognac drinker, Courvoisier emphasized the versatility of its various blends with a number of well-constructed cocktails accompanied with delicate French-style cakes for the predominately black-clad fashionistas to sip at.

As world's whisky makers well know in China, it is best not to stand on ceremony when trying to crack the fickle Chinese market. If the punters want to blend your painstakingly aged drop with green tea then so be it.

As the suits in the marketing department well know, get the young and hip crowd dicing over your brand in the darkened clubs of China and the bottom line in the old country starts looking up.

Olivier has spearheaded Courvoisier's move into the developed world by steering the production of a range of accessible cognacs since ascending to the blending helm of the cognac maker in 1986.

He is responsible for the creation of a number of new blends including XO, Initiale Extra, Erte, VSOP Exclusif, Mellenium L'Espirit and Succession Olivier which were designed to appeal to new enthusiasts of premium cognac.

"In recent years Courvoisier has expanded into important new markets throughout the world and I believe that there is great potential to engage a new audience through a contemporary and accessible approach to cognac," he says.

Courvoisier will lead its push into China with three premium blends - Courvoisier Exclusif, Napoleon Fine Champagne and XO Fine Champagne.

The Excusif is blended with 12-year-old cognac from the smallest, most exclusive Borderies region. A deep smooth blend with overtones of dried plum, ginger cookies and coffee make it both a rewarding drink neat or the versatile element of sophisticated cocktails.

Aged 20 years, the Napoleon Fine Champagne is a blend of matured grande and petite Champagne cognacs providing a complex, long-lasting finish and a deep golden amber color, with dried apricot and mushroom overtones.

Finally, the Xo Fine Champagne is a blend of 40 of these grande and petite cognacs from the finest producers in the Cognac region. This distinguished cognac has an elegant finish with hints of cigar leaves, fine leather and ripe fig.

In that classically French way, drinkers are recommended to first savor these fine drops with a minute of contemplation, the so-called "La minute mystique," to allow the aromas and flavors to fully develop.


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