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February 14, 2024

Ingenious ‘infinity wheel’ gives Rémy Martin Louis XIII decanters a second life

By Chris Madigan

At last! A dilemma that has faced cognac connoisseurs for 150 years – whether to drink a bottle of Rémy Martin Louis XIII or pass it on to someone you feel deserves it – has finally been solved. It’s all thanks to the introduction of an ingenious new device which will refill the ornate decanters in which the liquid is sold: the ‘Infinity Wheel’.

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Owners of a classic Louis XIII decanter can now return it to one of three boutiques – at Harrods in London, SKP in Beijing or the Louis XIII maison in Cognac itself. The decanter is inspected and cleaned before its owner is invited to their chosen boutique to attend a refilling ceremony. (There is now also a similar programme to refill decanters of Richard Hennessy in a neighbouring Harrods boutique.)

The crystal Louis XIII decanter, hand-blown by various manufacturers – Baccarat, Saint-Louis and Cristallerie de Sèvres – is often valued as an objet d’art in itself. The bottle design has remained unchanged, bar a few details, since 1874. It is based on a pewter flask acquired by Paul-Émile Rémy Martin that is believed to have been discovered on the site of 1569’s Battle of Jarnac; not something to be put in the recycling when empty, especially, as is often the case, if the decanter has been engraved.

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Maître de chai Baptiste Loiseau, master blender of Rémy Martin, says many clients have told him they would prefer to pass on their decanter rather than buy a new one for their son or grandchild: ‘It is the rebirth of something that passes from generation to generation.’

However, the liquid inside is even more highly prized. Louis XIII is blended exclusively from eaux de vie from the Grande Champagne cru of the Cognac appellation (not to be confused with the sparkling wine region with a similar name to the north-east). Grande Champagne is known for the complexity and elegance of its fruity and floral notes, and lends itself to long ageing. As an Hors d’Age cognac, Louis XIII has certainly taken its time, with its constituent parts maturing in Limousin oak – which intensifies the flavour more than other woods – for at least 40 and up to 100 years. 

Simply ordering a glass of Louis XIII is often accompanied by ritual, ceremony and a very French poetic romanticism, which some can find overstated. The Infinity Experience takes this further, as the decanter is placed in the device, which is then rotated into place and a new 750ml of the mahogany liquid cascades into place, while the boutique is in silence.

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Loiseau explains: ‘I really want our clients to experience a kind of introspection, to understand what is captured inside the decanter, which is time. And to pay tribute to the human chain involved in the making of Louis XIII over many years. It’s really the same introspection our team has when we make the selection of eaux de vie in the tasting room – there is silence for nearly one hour before we discuss what we’ve nosed.’

This upscale recycling project is described as being part of a ‘sustainability vision’. Other measures will arguably have a more substantial effect. The new display box, or coffret, is made from cellulose – lighter, smaller and 100 per cent recyclable. Meanwhile, trials of new grape varietals to suit the Charente’s changing climate, as well as funding of projects to protect oak forests, are designed to ensure there will be high-quality cognac for future generations to fill the Louis XIII decanters we leave behind.

This feature was first published in Spear’s Magazine Issue 90. Click here to subscribe

Illustration: Cat Sims

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