I keep thinking Mad Men, and the resultant mania it inspires, will jump the shark any day now, once again leaving my all-things-retro obsession without a focal point. Thankfully, the show's fourth season was, as far as I'm concerned, its best since the first, and its popularity both as a TV show and a how-to fashion and lifestyle guide continue unabated.
Even if you've never watched Mad Men, you probably know that the characters all smoke like chimneys and drink like inebriated fish, all day, every day. One thing I've never seen them drink, however, is cognac. So it didn't really make sense for Vincent "Pete Campbell" Kartheiser and Mad Men's costume designer, Janie Bryant, to be at a dinner and tasting party for Remy Martin's 1738 Accord Royal cognac. It also didn't make sense for the event to be called "Gentlemen's Night" when half the media folk attending were female, not to mention one of the two guests of honor.
But who cared! We were going to get to meet Vincent Kartheiser! While drinking cognac and eating dinner! In a swanky hotel in midtown Manhattan, no less -- namely, the Lambs Club at the Chatwal Hotel, a gorgeous smallish room with a roaring fireplace, on the second floor of a building designed by the legendary architect Stanford White. Sure enough, as I walked in and sipped my complimentary Manhattan (made with cognac instead of rye or bourbon whiskey, and a very fine alternative), there was Vincent Kartheiser, looking taller than I'd expected -- Jon Hamm must have a few inches on him -- and mingling animatedly with the guests in between posing for publicity pics.
Before I could sidle up to him and make halting, inane conversation for a couple of minutes, I was buttonholed by Rémy Martin's brand ambassador, Remi Brabant, who explained to me how the 1738 Accord Royal is designed to be used in cocktails as well as the traditional after-dinner sipping. Indeed, cognac has been used in cocktails almost since the invention of mixed drinks. The original Sazerac, for instance, was made with brandy and not whiskey. Rémy's attempt to characterize cognac as a "brown spirit" along the lines of bourbon or Scotch, to get in good with the cocktail crowd, is certainly accurate -- 1738 Accord Royal is a lovely copper color -- but it also strikes me as a little sad. Cognac has such a long, rich history, and it's such an elegant spirit, that Rémy's attempts to pitch it to the Mad Men crowd feel a little like an overenthusiastic father checking out the latest Lil Wayne album.
But who cares? Dinner was delicious! Although it was served with wine and not cognac. And when Kartheiser toasted the Rémy Martin folks, he made it clear that he wasn't a cognac expert. "But after two hours of drinking it," he clarified, "I'm a fan." He was also a little strange, discussing, among other things, how his only successful relationships are with "Geminis from Texas whose fathers killed themselves." Two hours of drinking cognac can do that to a fellow. But who cares! It was Vincent freakin' Kartheiser! And hey, he also gave me a good tip for getting a close shave which I won't share here, because, well, that's just between Vince and me.
Let's see, am I leaving anything out? Ah, yes, the cognac! We did actually try a glass of it at some point. It's a blend of cognacs aged between four and twenty years, which makes it V.S.O.P. (Very Special Old Pale). That's a slightly less desirable and exclusive grade than an XO cognac, whose contents must be aged a minimum of six years. But while the difference may be noticeable to your wallet -- at around $50 a bottle, it's quite affordable for a cognac -- unless you're an expert, it won't matter a whit to your taste buds.
1738 Accord Royal has a lovely, rounded, fruity aroma that's much more lively than I expected from a brandy. The taste is smooth, with notes of apricots and figs as well as bitter chocolate. It starts out slightly sweet but finishes pleasantly dry and long, with a mellow burn that's not overwhelming. Sipped neat in front of a roaring fire, it was delicious. And as a weekend of "research" determined, you can use cognac as a substitute for whiskey in a host of cocktails; my favorite was a cognac Old Fashioned.
As we staggered out of the Lambs Club laden down with our complimentary goodie bags (a decanter? Awww, you shouldn't have!), I wondered whether Rémy Martin would be featured in Season Five of Mad Men, whether Pete Campbell's character would start drinking it, and whether anyone realized that cognac cocktails are 19th century retro, not 1960s. But who cares! I got a picture of myself with Vincent Kartheiser! Vincent Freakin' Kartheiser, dude!