Telling stories | The extraordinarily priced tale of Louis Xlll cognac


The luxury world is fuelled by fantasy. Jennifer Sharp is bemused

Louis Xlll cognac

Louis Xlll cognac

Do you believe in magic? I’m in a room with a bunch of men who do. They are mesmerised by a bottle of cognac suspended in a display case like a not altogether benevolent deity. The room is hushed, the atmosphere sacramental, devotional, quasi religious. What on earth is going on?

It is all part of the elaborate mythmaking that is the norm in upmarket retail, where selling luxury has reached fantastical levels. It’s not enough to have beauty or craftsmanship or exclusivity; it must reach into realms of epic poetry with stories that weave themselves into the subconscious and evoke desire.

You swoon to the purple prose of those tasting notes

Louis Xlll cognac, first created in 1874 and top of the tree in terms of rarity and price, is brilliant at creating storylines that inspire its well-heeled customers. It’s hard to be indifferent to facts such as: each decanter holds a blend that’s needed more than 100 years and four generations of cellar master to perfect, an intricate marriage of up to 1200 different eaux-de-vie. You swoon to the purple prose of those tasting notes and scents of myrrh, honey, plum, honeysuckle, wood bark, leather and passion fruits.

Louis XIII cognac at the Royal Monceau

L’Odyssée d’un Roi

Yet it’s hard to believe the romance amongst the chalky vineyards where ugni blanc, the signature grape of cognac is grown. This is gentle, rural France with no suggestion of the legends woven into its DNA: a humble drinking flask lost on a battlefield for 300 years, a drink that becomes a potent symbol of the French art de vivre.

And now Louis Xlll cognac has come up with another legend, even more exotic and fanciful, L’Odyssée d’un Roi (or Journey of a King) in partnership with three of the biggest names in the French luxury world: Hermès, Puiforcat silversmiths, and Saint-Louis, specialists in top end crystal. And there’s another epic dimension too: the movie business, with legendary director Martin Scorsese and his Film Foundation created nearly 30 years ago to restore, protect and preserve the finest and often most endangered films in world cinema.

Three separate high profile auctions are taking place in autumn 2016 at Sotheby’s in New York, Hong Kong and London. They will directly benefit the Scorsese Film Foundation and add a hero aura to the Louis Xlll name. What’s not to like?

Up for grabs in each city is a handsome bespoke leather trunk by Hermès that holds a magnum of Louis Xlll cognac in a unique crystal decanter etched with an historic map, four hand-blown, etched tasting glasses, a white gold pipette for measuring out the precious liquid to initiates, and a book that chronicles the supposed worldwide journeys of Louis Xlll. The starting bids for each of these auctions is an eye-watering US$100k in NYC and comparable local currencies in Hong Kong and London.

Words such as “willing suspension of disbelief” and “you’ve got to be kidding” spring to mind

Words such as “willing suspension of disbelief” and “you’ve got to be kidding” spring to mind but no, I’m wrong. The New York sale has been and gone with a successful bid of nearly US$135,000. More is expected from Hong Kong in October where the Asian market is still in thrall to luxury legends, but there’s a question mark over the London sale on 11 November. Harrods has announced it will close its fine wines department just three years after opening – overseas buyers once happy to spend colossal sums for exclusive drinks brands have vanished.

But there’s hope in the younger market. Apparently Millennials are buying more expensive booze to show off on Instagram and impress their friends.

Modest bragging rights perhaps but there’s hope for the mythmakers. C