Sommelier Julie Dupouy and entrepreneur Sabrina Duong on creating the world's first cognac for women

Sheila Chiang
Lifestyle contributor
Exsto Cognac bottles on display. (PHOTO: Exsto Cognac)

SINGAPORE – Three years ago, Julie Dupouy received a message through LinkedIn. It was an invitation from a fellow French woman named Sabrina Duong who wanted to create a cognac for women, by women. 

Dupouy, a Dublin-based sommelier who has won the Best Sommelier of Ireland every year since 2009, initially dismissed it as a bizarre request from a stranger as she had no idea who Duong was. 

Eventually, Dupouy agreed to speak to Duong as she was attracted to “the opportunity of creating (my own spirit)”. Cognac has long been associated with an old-fashioned, masculine image and your grandfather’s tipple of choice but Dupouy wanted to change that. 

“As a Cognac lover and a woman, I was very excited to take on this challenge. I wanted to bring the passion and excitement I have for Cognac to a wider audience by introducing a new, modern style to drinkers around the world,” said Dupouy, who speaks impeccable English.

“There are also times where the customer asked if I actually know wine at all, seeing that I was a female,” added Dupouy.

Breaking the stereotype in a man’s world

For Duong, she wanted to work with a good sommelier who lives and breathes wines and spirits and has cultivated a unique understanding of aromas and flavours by exploring the world’s best foods and drinks.

Julie Dupouy ticked all the boxes as she has a thorough understanding of modern preferences, having worked with acclaimed chefs at Michelin-starred restaurants. 

In 2016, she was placed third at the ASI World’s Best Sommelier Championship. She was one of just four women in the competition and the second female sommelier ever to reach the final of the world championships.

“I always wanted to work in the perfume industry. That was my dream. I always loved smelling everything,” continued Dupouy, during a scent-pairing afternoon at the Writers Bar, Raffles Hotel where she took everyone on a sensory journey to experience different smells. 

Best Sommelier of Ireland and second runner-up of ASI World’s Best Sommelier Championship, Julie Dupouy. (PHOTO: Exsto Cognac)
Exsto Elixir mixed in a cocktail. (PHOTO: Sheila Chiang/Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore)

It has not always been a bed of roses for a female sommelier like Dupouy in a male-dominated industry. She has encountered gender discrimination instances such as this one time she went to a customer’s table with the wine list and the customer asked to speak to the sommelier instead. 

“So I took the wine list and came back to the table with the same wine list,” chuckled Dupouy.

“There are also times where the customer asked if I actually know wine at all, seeing that I was a female,” added Dupouy.

The world’s first cognac created by women

Dupouy worked with master blender Géraud Vallantin-Dulac over two years to create a new, modern Cognac for a new generation of cultured drinkers. Exsto Cognac was conceptualised in 2017 with a more feminine approach to what is often perceived to be a man’s drink and became the world’s first cognac created by two Frenchwomen.

“It took us two years, to be happy with the final blend because I never was satisfied,” said Dupouy.

The Exsto Cognac Élixir. (PHOTO: Sheila Chiang/Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore)

She has created not one, but two distinctive cognac blends: Exsto Or Impérial and Exsto Élixir.

Exsto Cognac Or Impérial is refined, complex and enchanting, with notes of greengage, vine peach and apricot and its beautiful nuances of iodine and seaweed, punctuated by delicate notes of violet and rose petals.  

At first nose, Exsto Cognac Élixir exudes intense notes of caramel au beurre (caramelised butter), red fruits, ripe peaches and apricots, exotic spices – vanilla, cinnamon, and star anise, roasted pineapple and melon with a twist of bitter oak. 

Upon a drop of water, the cognac’s buttery notes are brought out for a richer finish. The Élixir comprises a mixture of eight eaux-de-vie chosen out of the rarest and oldest stock from producers.

What is the best way to drink cognac as well as food pairings with cognac? 

(From left to right) Sampling the Exsto Élixir, which contains 40% alcohol content, on its own and with an ice-cube. Adding ice-cubes will dilute the cognac and reduce the alcohol percentage, which in turn reveals the aromas while making the taste more refreshing. (PHOTO: Sheila Chiang/Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore)

“Traditionally, cognac used to be served in big balloon glasses. The thing is, those glasses are difficult to grab and you have to hold the main part of the glass, which mean that the temperature of your body transfers into the spirit and the alcohol fumes become more volatile. So when you smell the cognac, it is going to get warmer and fumy. So it is best to get a glass with a stem so you don’t warm the cognac with your hand,” said Dupouy.

“In terms of food pairings, foie gras or any fatty foods would be good. Shellfish such as oysters, sea urchins and smoked salmon work as well too. I have seen people pair it with a raspberry macaron, caramelised pork belly and Peking duck, and I thought they were really interesting.”

“Don’t serve with chocolate though, as it wouldn’t work.” 

Exsto Or Impérial ($2,888) and Exsto Élixir ($688) are currently only available in Singapore at 1880, Anti:dote, The Bar at 15 Stamford, The Capitol Kempinski Hotel Singapore, Garibaldi Restaurant, Manhattan, Odette, SKAI and www.ttwsgroup.com