COLIN PETER FIELD

COLIN PETER FIELD

UNCORKING HISTORY

Colin Peter Field — the head bartender at the Ritz Paris’s Hemingway Bar, who has been ranked best in the world — remembers his first pour of an impossibly rare cognac.

Vintage cognacs like these and the one opened by Field can go for thousands of dollars a glass

Pre-phylloxera cognac is extremely rare. Bottles are worth thousands and thousands of euros, and a single glass can cost 1,500 euros, making it one of the most expensive drinks in the world.

The first time I opened a bottle was at the Ritz Paris, in December of 1994.

The Ritz’s supply dates to 1813 [prior to a mid-1800s crop crisis caused by the insect Phylloxera that devastated nearly all of France’s vineyards.] By the time I found it in the hotel’s cellar, it hadn’t been touched in more than 100 years.

Outside the Ritz Paris, which reopened to the public in June 2016 after a four-year, $450 million renovation, photograph by Christophe Madamour

When I finally had the opportunity to open a bottle for a Hemingway Bar patron, I was determined to do it [without any help].

That required some real stage work. I tried to open it with the required special tools in front of the customer, but the cork was stuck.

My mind was screaming, my heart was beating, and I was sweating tears of nervous perspiration.

Certain ca. late 1930s bottles of Remy Martin “Louis VIII,” like the above, may contain cognacs dating to the pre-phylloxera era

Inside the newly renovated Hemingway Bar, where Field has resumed taking care "of his orphans,” photograph by Vincent Leroux

I took the bottle to my office and worked on it like a surgeon for half an hour — you don’t open anything that’s 100 years-old quickly.

The cognac must be tasted before serving, so [after uncorking it], I took a sip. It was delicious, with hints of prune, chocolate, and orange marmalade.

I had opened a piece of history: the air between the cork and the cognac was that of 1813. It’s an immense prestige to serve pre-phylloxera cognac, and I’m looking forward to taking care of my Hemingway orphans again now that the hotel and bar have reopened.

— as told to The Thick

Did you see? Chef and restaurateur John DeLucie takes The Thick Questionnaire, New York City nightlife staples, George Wayne & Nur Khan, talk their days and nights on the town.

 

Photos of the bar’s namesake patron adorn its walls, photograph by Vincent Leroux