With over 250 years of heritage at its heels, Hine has a lot to teach us about the fine art of Cognac
Founded in 1763, Maison Hine has made quite the name for itself as one of France’s most forward-thinking Cognac producers. From its single estate, Grand Champagne expressions, to its delicate-yet-intricate, Fine Champagne blends, each and every bottle of Hine serves as a lesson in the house’s rich terroir and immense heritage. Ever the one to take things literally, I offer you an entirely anecdotal account of the lessons to be learned at the bottom of a bottle of Hine. Drink responsibly.
The Bottle: Bonneuil 2008
The Lesson: Cognac is Wine
Obvious to some but it bears repeating: Cognac is – at its core – wine. And Hine take their wine very seriously. They have to: It takes as many as ten litres of wine to distil just one litre of the eau-de-vie that goes on to become Cognac. That leaves a pretty small margin of error, as any imperfections in the wine will be magnified tenfold in the final distillate.
Produced solely from grapes harvested from Hine’s own estate, Hine’s Bonneuil Cognac is the ultimate expression of those base characters. A liquid ode to the finer details of Hine’s terroir, Bonneuil is Hine’s single-estate, single-harvest Cognac. It’s 2008 bottling – the smallest to date with an assemblage of just 16 casks – offers a rare opportunity to explore the fine terroir of Hine itself. Characteristically light on oak, it’s a little powerhouse of prune, dark fruits and chocolate that provides the key to understanding the house’s approach to fine Cognac.
The Bottle: Hine 1988 Vintage
(Landed 1990 and bottled in 2004)
The Lesson: Cognac is not whisky
It might come as a shock to those more attuned to the oak n’ smoke approach of a Kentucky bourbon or an Islay scotch, but Hine’s Cognacs sit on the fruitier, more floral side of the brown spirit spectrum. Setting aside the simple fact that whisky comes from corn while Cognac is the product of grapes, both are a world apart in terms of their relationships with the oak in which they’re aged.
According to Hine, Cognac can be aged for up to around 60 years in oak barrels. After that the wood starts leaving a pretty heavy handed mark on the fine wine provenance of the Cognac. As a rule, Hine use fine grain, lightly toasted oak casks to minimize the oaks influence. The idea is to add a little oaked nuance to the grape without leaning too heavily on the wood. Hine’s 1988 Vintage is a shining example of this balancing act. Grape-forward, it deftly balances soft fruit notes with an earthy, mushroom dryness. At 30 years of age, oak is present but refined,
taking a back seat to a prevalent, dark fruit decadence.
The Bottle: Hine Homage
The Lesson: Tradition and innovation are not mutually exclusive
Cognac is one of the most heavily-regulated spirits in the world. It’s a troublesome burdon for some, one that often paints an unnecessarily old and stuffy picture of what should be a very exciting liquid. Luckily, Hine have always delighted in the challenges that come from innovating from within the confines of tradition. Hine Homage is the perfect example of that innovation. A throwback to Hine’s British roots and a fine ode to friendly competition, Homage is a blend of early-landed, Grande Champagne Cognacs matured in the UK and XO Cognac from the Hine cellars in Jarnac. A delicately peppered spice and an exceptional florality lend Homage a cheeky playfulness that extends beyond the liquid itself. True to its name, Homage is a knowing wink to the house’s distant, English roots and a nod to its enduring sense of experimentation.
The Bottle: Hine Triomphe
The Lesson: Nothing worth doing is easy
Even if we breeze over The Great French Wine Blight of the 19th Century (a fifteen-year aphid infestation that decimated 40% of France’s vineyards), there’s still the simple fact that Jarnac’s winemakers are very much at the mercy of the elements. Entire grape harvests can be destroyed in the single, sudden swoop of a summer storm. Potential vintages can be lost to the region’s relentless humidity. Triomphe, then, is as much a celebration of Hine’s terroir as it is a challenge to it. Blended in honour of all those responsible for rebuilding the appellation in the wake of the phylloxera infestation, Triomphe is a fine example of Hine’s dedication to quality and a liquid celebration of its triumph over adversity. It’s also delicious; the extra aging of this blend of 50 Grande Champagne Cognacs granting Triomphe a peerless complexity and well-rounded yet robust character.
The Bottle: H by Hine
The Lesson: Ice-cold Cognac is a revelation
There are purists that will insist that the delicacy and nuance of a fine Cognac can only be enjoyed at room temperature. There are others, more devoted still, that will reach for the brandy warmer, fervently defending the bite and intensity of a fire-kissed Cognac. Both parties, no doubt, would be horrified by the idea of a frozen Cognac. And both would be missing out on something truly special. H by Hine, the house’s entry level VSOP, seems tailor-made for this kind of chilled-out experimentation. It’s a young and vibrant little cognac; a solid solo sipper that also holds its own in a cocktail. What a chilled Hine loses in upfront clout it more than makes up for in golden syrup-like silkiness. It’s a veritable dessert in a glass and a wonderfully playful introduction to the category. EJ
Words by Will HALBERT