If you follow fashion, you know the Bible got it right: there’s a season for everything, and trends are cyclical.
Consider the popularity of liqueurs in America. Back when my parents were entertaining, they were the climax of any well-planned dinner party, a final fillip that demonstrated the indisputable taste of the host. As decades passed they became a quaint anachronism, similar to eating trout almondine or riding in your uncle’s Buick. They came full circle during this country’s recent explosion of the cocktail culture, and once again hold a place of honor on the back bar.
Few liqueurs are as fabled as Grand Marnier. This famous concoction of Cognac, sugar and bitter oranges was invented by Louis Alexandre Marnier-Lapostolle in 1880, and quickly became a sensation. It happened that Marnier-Lapostolle was a friend of César Ritz, who featured the liqueur in his hotels. After the chef at the Ritz in Paris (a guy named Escoffier) used Grand Marnier in Crêpe Suzette, a dish he invented for the future King of England, its popularity skyrocketed even further.
Most of us are familiar with the basic version of Grand Marnier, known as Cordon Rouge, but fewer consumers have sampled the Grand Cuvée Collection comprising Centenaire, 1880 and Quintessence. Patrick Raguenaud, Grand Marnier’s master blender, passed through Florida last week, and was gracious enough to share that collection with a group of connoisseurs and mixologists.
The flavor profile of Cordon Rouge ($40) is comfortable and familiar. It exhibits considerable sweetness on entry (the exact sugar level is not disclosed), along with tart citrus notes in the mid palate. The finish is persistent and complex, with hints of pepper and baking spices. The next step up the ladder is Cuvée de Centenaire ($150), created in 1927 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Marnier-Lapostolle. Centenaire contains Cognacs up to 25 years old, and half the sugar of Cordon Rouge. It has a pale amber color and a spicy, floral nose; in the mouth, it displays luscious orange flavors and excellent balance.
Even better is Cuvée 1880 ($350), a blend of 100% Grande Champagne Cognac aged 45-60 years. It leaps into the mouth with sweet yet biting flavors of stewed oranges; the rich, mellow flavors continue to give off a spicy, balancing edge throughout the mid palate and finish. The ultimate experience is Quintessence ($900), containing Cognac dating to 1906. Sweet but not cloying, it displays profound flavors of honey, vanilla and macerated oranges, followed by a long and resonant finish.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012) and Moonshine Nation (Lyons Press, 2014); his first novel, Friend of the Devil, is forthcoming from Black Opal Books in Spring 2016. For more inforation, visit amazon.com