In Which We Go to France to Learn the Ultimate Cocktail Party Hack
Your party is nothing without an "Opulence Table"
By and large, the cocktail party has become a rote and relatively predictable affair: wine, snacks, small talk, repeat.
However, this all changed for your correspondent recently, and he’s got a particular group of people to thank: the French.
More specifically, the fine folks at Rémy Martin, who, on a recent trip to their ancestral seat in Cognac (with a short detour through the Cannes Film Festival, where Rémy was celebrating their 14th consecutive year as a partner of the festival with a limited-edition XO Cannes bottle), introduced yours truly to a wonderful concept called the “Opulence Table.”
True, bit of a hyperbolic moniker. But having experienced it, I can say that recreating it at home is a) not nearly as involved as the name leads you to believe, and b) the kind of party curveball that folks will really remember.
All you need is a big ol’ dining room table, a few key ingredients, and a bit of know how.
Remy (3 images)
First, grab a bottle (or two, if you’re feeling saucy) of Rémy Martin XO cognac, the brand’s flagship dram. Now, dollars to donuts you and/or some of your guests may be largely unfamiliar with cognac in general (which is half the fun), so be ready to give ‘em a lil’ refresher. To wit:
- Cognac is made from grapes — in the case of Rémy XO, fine champagne grapes grown in a specific part of the Cognac region in France. Grapes become wine, wine is distilled down to eau de vie (literally: “life water”), eau de vie is then selected by cellar master to be aged into cognac.
- Cognac has to come from Cognac — as in, the grapes need to be grown in the Cognac region, which is known for its intensely chalky soil (a good thing for grapes) and a temperate microclimate due to the nearby Atlantic Ocean (also a good thing for grapes). Anything produced outside the region is brandy. F*ck brandy.
- XO stands for “Extra Old” — that is, aged for a minimum of six years. Though in the case of Rémy Martin, many of the over four hundred eau de vies in an XO blend can be much older, some up to 30 years. The result is a stunningly multifaceted dram with notes more complex than a Rachmaninoff concerto.
Next, procure as many of the following items as possible:
- Big block of aged Parmesan
- Candied orange peel
- Candied ginger or ginger cake
- Cocoa beans
- Chocolate truffles
- Dried figs
- Cinnamon sticks
- Jasmine tea
- Macarons (chocolate, orange, pistachio)
- Vanilla pods
- Dried saffron
- White grapes
- Orange marmalade
- Dark chocolate bars
Arrange it all as artfully as you can on your dining room table. Pick an eclectic mix of vessels to put everything in. Throw some flowers (jasmine, rose, iris) into the mix. Make it look sexy.
Once everyone’s arrived, pour them all a couple ounces of the XO and get down to business. The goal here is for the different items on the table (whether smelled or tasted — please don’t try to eat a cinnamon stick) to bring out different aspects of the cognac, and you will be amazed at the variation. For example, the candied orange brings out the freshness and lightness of the younger eau de vies, the cocoa beans the earthiness of their older counterparts, the Parmesan’s umami the harmony of the entire bouquet, etc.
The important part here is not to overthink it. It’s not a seminar, it’s meant to be fun. Experiential. A conversation stimulant (and lubricant). Again, not your typical cocktail party.
So sniff. Nibble. Drink. Talk. Feel free to pepper in some of the weird anecdotes we learned such as the fact that Rémy Martin has over 200,000 casks in their cellars, some of which have been down there since Napoleon ruled France.
Cap everything off with a round of XO Old Fashioneds, because yes that is a thing, yes it is delicious, and no your guests have likely not had one before.
Vive le France.
XO Old Fashioned
In a tumbler: stir 2oz Rémy Martin XO, one lump of brown sugar, three dashes of bitters, and ½ oz sparkling water, continuing to add more ice as you stir. Add ½ slice of orange and a twist of lemon. Imbibe. Repeat as necessary.
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