Exsto Cognac – created by a fashion and beauty industry veteran and an award-winning sommelier – provides a refreshing, non-traditional, and more feminine approach to making cognac.
If there’s a sector in the spirits business that’s anachronistically male dominated, it’s likely to be the cognac industry. We can only recall Rémy Martin’s Pierrette Trichet, their fourth-ever cellar master – and their first-ever female one – who retired in 2014 to make way for current 5th generation cellar master Baptiste Loiseau, Meukow’s Anne Sarteaux, and Isabelle Couprie of Gautier; while there are probably a number of others they aren’t quite known outside of France.
As a drink, cognac is one that’s traditionally targeted at a mostly male – and definitely older – demographic. If your idea of cognac is an old man’s drink, well, it’s generally true. You’re more likely to encounter cognac as the choice for drinking games in sleazy karaoke lounges in Singapore, than as a premium tipple in a notable high-end bar.
But the two women behind newly-launched Exsto Cognac intend to change those outdated perceptions. Exsto Cognac is created in partnership between Sabrina Duong and award-winning sommelier Julie Dupuoy with the help of seventh-generation master-blender Géraud Vallantin-Dulac.
Duong, during a night of drinking with her contemporaries at home in France, was challenged to create a cognac that she would be proud of. When she sobered up the next day, the fashion and beauty industry veteran – who’s never made a cognac in her life – decided to take up the dare. As she was doing her research, a great idea flashed through her mind – why not build a cognac backwards? That is to say, why not first find out what flavours modern consumers would prefer in their tipple, and then make it accordingly, rather than following a “house style”?
With that in mind, she reached out – via LinkedIn – to Julie Dupouy. The French native and sommelier was plying her trade in Dublin, Ireland, and Duong was impressed by her track record; she had been Best Sommelier in Ireland since 2009, and was World’s Best Female Sommelier in 2016. Intrigued by the idea of making a cognac, Dupouy met up with Duong in Paris a few weeks after they connected.
“Julie’s skills and experience make her the perfect choice to create a new style of cognac – a luxury drink that’s elegant and modern, yet respectful of its heritage,” Doung told us. “We share a vision of adopting a more feminine approach to what is often perceived to be a man’s drink.” More importantly to Doung, she felt Dupouy herself was an inspiration, and a great role model to young women around the world.
“As a sommelier I rarely get the occasion to create. Of course I get to select beautiful wines and spirits and recommend them to people but getting the opportunity to be in charge of developing the taste profile of a beverage was definitely something unique and exciting,” Dupouy remembered.
“I also felt that this venture was a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the process of creating a high-quality product and bringing it to market,” she added.
She signed up.
They then tapped seventh generation master-blender Géraud Vallantin-Dulac for help; together they sourced for eaux-de-vie from some 15 small producers across the Cognac region – encompassing Grande-Champagne, Petite-Champagne, Borderies and Fins Bois. Once Dupouy had sampled the eaux-de-vie with her exacting and precise palate – built over the years from tasting all kinds of wines and spirits, and even coffee – she would set aside the ones to be used for blending by Vallantin-Dulac.
“The first thing I was looking for was purity, precision and energy. I also wanted the style to be bright, perfumed with a delicate oak imprint. My idea was never to create a powerful style but a refined, elegant yet generous cognac,” Dupouy shared. They finally settled on eight eaux-de-vie to build their blends.
Exsto – from the French word ‘extase’ (ecstasy in English) and XO (the highest quality of cognac) – was born.
If that sounded easy, it wasn’t. In fact it took them two years before settling on the right blends. “Being perfectionists, it took us much more time that we originally thought to be happy with the final blend,” Dupouy recalled.
Extolling a woman’s touch.
The result was two different blends: the Exsto Elixir and Exsto Cognac Or Impérial.
The Exsto Elixir was created for a younger, female-oriented generation that may not have been exposed to cognac. The expression is more fruit-forward, with big notes of orchard and stone fruits intermingled with tinges of sweet spice in vanilla and cinnamon. The oaky tannins in more traditional cognacs are largely missing here. It’s not entirely a new approach though; Martell’s recent VSOP Aged In Red Barrels similarly leans towards this more contemporary style.
On the other hand, the ultra-premium Exsto Cognac Or Impérial is a throwback to a far older, and more traditional take but with a more delicate touch. Its bouquet and palate of floral notes in rose petals, ginger flowers is a dead giveaway of top-quality eaux-de-vie from Grande-Champagne, while earthy dark chocolate, ground spices, and sweet honeyed tones round out the finish. Cognac lovers would find the Or Impérial exciting, yet comfortingly familiar.
Exsto Cognac may not be the brand to ultimately change the younger generation’s minds about drinking cognac, or right the gender imbalance in the cognac industry. But this attempt – spearheaded by two women – certainly helps add a more feminine touch to the movement.
The Exsto Cognac Elixir and Exsto Cognac Or Impérial retails at S$688 and S$2,888 respectively. Exsto Cognac is brought into Singapore by local heritage company Tai Thong Wine and Spirits (TTWS) and is available for purchase online here. It can also be found at fine establishments such as 1880, Anti:dote, The Bar at 15 Stamford, The Capitol Kempinski Hotel Singapore, Garibaldi Restaurant, Manhattan, and Odette.