Depaz Cuvée Prestige (XO)

Depaz Cuvée Prestige Bottle-RG1

Product of:  Martinique
Blend of rhums aged at least 6 years 
Price:  €60 / $82 (on Martinique, 2x-7X more online)
Alcohol: 45% ABV
Sugar: 0g/L
Context:  Rhum Vieux Agricole
RG Rating: 9.5

Tasting Notes
Depaz Cuvée Prestige is gorgeous to look at, in the bottle while it waits in the wooden presentation case, and its appeal brightens when poured into your tasting glass.  It shows a rich looking, light amber hue, like finely figured polished but unstained mahogany.  Swirl and wait several moments – thin legs form slowly and drip with even less hurry.

As the impressive heavy bottle is uncorked, a bouquet of brown sugar is sweet prelude to the mild, nonaggressive aromas, meaning none of them invades the others.  Sniff well and you’ll appreciate the complexity, with soft notes of leather, old toasted oak that has shared much rhum with the angels, sugarcane bagasse, caramel and brown sugar, dried pipe tobacco, vanilla, dried tropical fruit (dates, prunes, figs), nutmeg and toasted almonds.  Despite the delicacy of the aromas, we are spared any astringent alcohol bite, even at 45%ABV.  Taste is initially dry, the body of medium weight, delivering flavors that honor  the aromas, but integrated such that no one really dominates.  On the finish, woody star anise completes the experience, leaving a mild white peppery sensation that lingers on your tongue for quite a few minutes.  Savor the harmony of artfully matured rhums blended into one masterful cuvée.

Above the former capital  of Saint-Pierre lies the Depaz distillery.  Shadowed by Mount Pelée, the sugarcane plantation manor was built in 1922 to replace the original building destroyed by the volcano's eruption of May 8, 1902

Depaz - A Story of Survival
Le Distillerie Depaz is striking in every way.  Everything about sugarcane and distilling it into rhum is immediately exposed to visitors.  And yet it is that gentle genie specter of Mount Pelée, a sleeping volcano, that commands your attention, humbling all you see yet making Depaz’ rhums all the more precious.  No distillery on Martinique delivers quite that sense of nature’s fleeting moods like Depaz always does.  Depaz’ nickname was “Habitation La Montagne.”

The history of le Distillerie Depaz begins in1645 with the first governor of Martinique, Jacques Dyel Duparquet, who cultivated sugarcane on lands that stretch from Martinique’s West coast to Mount Pelée, encompassing the estate grounds occupied today by Depaz.  A quarter century later, the property boasts two sugar refineries, a water mill, with oxen and 125 hectares of sugarcane.

Over the next two centuries the sugar refinery and estate changed ownership a few times.  When the source of production sugar suddenly changed from sugarcane to sugarbeets in the late 19th Century, the importance of Caribbean Island colonies declined dramatically, and so did their fortunes.  Martinique was not spared, but wiesly turned their sugar economy into a rhum economy.  Distilling a waste product of the former industry replaced sugar refining towards the end of the 19th century.

Depaz Cuvée Prestige Bottle-in-Box RG1

Rhum production in the lee of Mount Pelée suffered an equally serious setback exploitation on May 8th, 1902 when the sleeping volcano awoke, pulverized the distillery and destroying nearby Saint-Pierre, reportedly leaving all but one survivor.   

From the ashes of Mt. Pelée, Victor Depaz, only survivor of the family, begins the long process of rebuilding the distilling operation.  At first, Victor works at other Martinique distillers to learn their techniques. In 1917, with other heirs Pécoul, he repurchases 521 hectares laid waste by the volcano’s eruption, rebuilds the distilly and cultivates over a hundred hectares of sugarcane.

In 1922, Victor Depaz begins rebuilding the immense the Perrinnelle castle, the estate house of his childhood, patterned after the original. Distilling  operations are sequentially managed by the eldest three sons, Raoul, Henri and André, of Victor’s eleven children.  Each takes a turn as the head of the of family’s industry until 1989. On this date the distilling and five hectares of ground are bought by the Bardinet group, today’s current operators.

Depaz Cuvée Prestige Bottle & Box-RG1

Beautiful and hefty glass carafe the same bottle as used by few other high-end premium rums (ex: VIzcaya Cask 21 by a few other Bottom 3/4” of thick glass at base of bottle. Top - heavy gold colored cap accentuates the gold Depas logo and script on the bottle, with a wide natural cork stopper, as it should be.

Depaz’ finest delivers flavor like the best rhums vieux should; gracefully pleasing your senses, not challenging them with conflicts.  Cuvée Prestige makes reference to Mount Pelée on every bottle.  The distillery survives int he shadow of the island’s dominant feature, which is treated locally as a god, due in part to the hell of its volcanic eruption on May 8, 1902, burying the capital of Saint-Pierre and annihilating the city’s population.  Cuvée Prestige is a humble rum.  Noble yes, but understated, as if to pay homage in rhum and sugarcane currency to the great forces of nature.

Reviewed:  January 2014 at The Rum Gallery, USA.

© Dave Russell 2017