Hine Cognac…Fine Cognac

Photo by Espen Klem @ flickr creative commonsFor almost 250 years, Hine has been making some of the finest Cognacs around.  The house was first established in 1763 in Jarnac, France by Thomas Hine’s father-in-law.  When his father-in-law passed away, Thomas, originally from Dorset, England, took the reins and worked hard to expand the company.  In 1817, Thomas renamed the company Thomas Hine & Co. after himself.  Unfortunately, he died of pneumonia a few short years later, but not until he had gained a reputation the world over for producing consistently exquisite Cognac.  Six generations later, the company is still a family run business, and remains faithful to the principles set over 2 centuries ago by Thomas Hine.  Their simple motto: “Produce little; but make it perfect.”  Since 1963, Hine has been the only Cognac house to have the honour of holding the Royal Warrant to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

What makes Hine Cognacs so special?

The House of Hine produces excellent blended Cognacs that are sourced fromPer Even Allaire, Hine's Global Ambassador fewer than 50 growers, all from the well-known Grande and Petite Champagne districts.  Hine is also acknowledged worldwide as the specialist in Vintage Cognacs.  A Vintage Cognac is made only in exceptional years, and only in limited quantities, which can explain their cost.  Hine is known for ageing their Cognacs much longer than legally required and longer than many other producers.

Hine also continues the tradition that began in the 19th century of sending a few casks of each vintage to England to age in the chalk cellars of Bristol.  Known as ‘Early Landed’ Cognacs, their different flavour lies in the climate, explained Per Even Allaire, Hine’s global ambassador.  Bristol has overall cooler temperatures that remain quite steady, and the humidity is rarely below 95%, resulting in less evaporation of the liquid than in Jarnac where the air is much drier and the temperatures fluctuate more.  As a result, the Cognacs aged in Bristol will be fresher and fruitier and may even have slightly floral notes .  Jarnac-aged Cognacs, subjected to more evaporation and oxidation, are rich and complex, with a distinctly woody character.

Timothy Hine & Co. CognacA Tasting of Fine Hine Cognacs:

Hine Rare VSOP Fine Champagne Cognac:  Fine Champagne means that it is a blend of Grande and Petite Champagne Cognacs, with at least 50% coming from Grande Champagne (not to be confused with the famous sparkling wine region, Champagne – a completely different place).  This is a blend of more than 25 Cognacs, the youngest of which has aged more than 6 years.  This is Hine’s most delicate Cognac with aromas of orange peel, caramel, and jasmine.  Mellow and smooth. ($86.15)

Hine Homage Grand Cru Fine Champagne Cognac:  A blend of three ‘Early Landed’ vintage Cognacs (1984, 1986, 1987) aged in Bristol and some extra old Cognac aged in Hine’s cellars in Jarnac.   Per Even described the Homage Cognac as being an introduction to a wider audience of the style of Early Landed Vintage Cognac.  Homage Cognac has fresh aromas of orange peel, ripe apple, and butterscotch. ($144.95. To be released at the LCBO September 20, 2012.)

Hine 1er Cru Antique XO:  Antique XO was first released about 100 years ago.  To celebrate this anniversary, Hine has made Antique a Premier Cru, a blend of over 40 Cognacs exclusively from the Grande Champagne region.  The youngest Cognacs in the blend are at least 20 years old while the oldest have been aged for several decades.  This opulent and delicious Cognac has complex aromas of rich caramel, baked apple, apricot, spice, sweet honey, and licorice.  ($226.75)

Hine Cigar Reserve Cognac:  Created in 1996 for the cigar connoisseur.  A blend of 4 regions: Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies, and Fins Bois.  Powerful and bold, Cigar Reserve has pronounced aromas of smoke, gingerbread, caramel, baked apple, and loads of spice.  ($129.95.  To be released at the LCBO September 20, 2012.)

Hine Vintage 1964 Grande Champagne CognacHine Vintage 1964 Grande Champagne Cognac:  This is a previously unreleased Vintage Cognac that was aged 25 to 30 years in barrel in the Hine cellars in Jarnac. Incredibly complex, a flood of aromas sweeps you away each time you nose it – chocolatey-caramel sweetness, an array of spice and baked fruit.  A soft and silky texture with earthy and spicy fruit flavours on the palate.  Very long and lingering and delicious.

Hine Triomphe CognacHine Triomphe Decanter Cognac:  The 50 or so Grande Champagne Cognacs that make up this blend were selected and put aside 50 and 60 years ago.  Exquisite and complex, this Cognac has soft and sweet aromas of vanilla, creamy caramel, and butterscotch, with candied orange peel, and a delicate floral note.  Round and lush on the palate with a smoky spiciness on the lingering finish.  ($830.  To be released on November 19, 2012 as an LCBO Classics Online Release.  Only 20 bottles available in Ontario.)

A Spirited Seduction – Pairing Whisky, Rum, and Cognac with Chocolate

Cognac‘Tis the season for chocolate and seduction. Yes, Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and you may be planning a wonderful meal to woo that special someone, or you may just be wondering what to drink with all the chocolate you’ll be receiving from your hordes of admirers.  Last year, I wrote a piece on pairing wine with chocolate (Wine and Chocolate – What More Could You Ask For?), and the year before that I paired beer with chocolate (Beer and Chocolate – The Perfect Pairing).  This year I’m pairing spirits with chocolate.  Cognac, Rum, and Whisk(e)y can actually make great partners with a variety of different types of chocolate, and pairing a fine spirit with chocolate at the end of a romantic meal can be an elegant and sophisticated way to cap off the evening.

Whisky with Bittersweet Chocolate

Whisky is best with dark or bittersweet chocolate with a high percent of cocoa.  This type of chocolate generally has roasted, smokey, earthy, woodsy, and/or fruity flavours – similar to whisky.  The smokiness of a Single Malt Scotch, for example, can pair magicallyValentine's Chocolate with the smokiness in some bittersweet chocolates and the combination can even enhance the Scotch’s fruit flavours.  Even Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey can be a great pairing with subtle cherry fruit flavours adding complexity and interest to dark chocolate.

Rum with Milk Chocolate and Caramel

Both sugarcane and cocoa are grown in the Caribbean, so it’s no wonder that rum (made from sugarcane) and chocolate complement each other so beautifully.  Think of a deconstructed rum ball.  Milk Chocolate is the sweetest of all chocolate as it contains the highest amount of sugar and cocoa butter, giving it a rich, creamy texture and sweet vanilla flavours.  Rum is rich and mellow (especially an aged rum) with flavours of caramel, molasses, creamy almond, tropical fruits, coconut, and honey, which pair perfectly with caramels and milk chocolate.  Aged rums and amber or darker rums work best.

 CognacCognac with an Assortment of Artisanal Chocolates

Pairing a good Cognac with an assortment of high quality artisanal chocolates can be a simple, yet delicious, way to end a meal, or to have as a romantic treat in front of a gently crackling fire.  Cognac is aromatic and complex, with rich flavours of fruit, spice, vanilla and toffee, which can match similar flavours in the chocolates.  The full body and smooth texture of the spirit also match the creamy, luxurious texture of the chocolates.  Try the Cognac with a variety of different chocolates to determine your favourite pairing.

Have fun and don’t be afraid to experiment with chocolate and spirits.  I’d love to know your favourite pairings.

40 Creek Whisky – Canadian Whisky at its Finest!

A recent trip to Niagara drew me to Kittling Ridge Estates Wines and Spirits where a number of different wines and spirits are carefully crafted.  I’d often zoomed passed the building, which is easily seen from the QEW in Grimsby, on my way to other wineries, but I had never stopped in. I felt it was high time I visited Kittling Ridge, and I was very curious about their line of 40 Creek Whiskies…I wasn’t disappointed.

Internationally renowned whisky expert Michael Jackson has said that 40 Creek Whisky is, “The richest tasting Canadian Whisky I have tasted. Wins points for luxury. The most revolutionary whisky in Canada may well be Forty Creek. It is a delightful and well crafted whisky with international, timeless appeal.”  That’s quite the endorsement.

The whisky maker’s name is John Hall, and his passion and talent for making whisky may be unequalled in Canada.  His years as a successful winemaker have inspired him as a whisky maker to use a unique technique that most North American whiskies don’t employ.  Instead of the grains being mashed together according to a recipe called a ‘mash bill’, the grains are all mashed, fermented, distilled, and aged separately before being blended into a beautifully balanced and complex whisky – just like the way different grape varieties are vinified and aged separately before being blended into the final wine.  Hall says that using this method enables him to capture the distinctive flavours and nuances of each grain.  Three grains are typically used – rye for spiciness and fruitiness, barley for nuttiness, and Indian corn, also called maize, to add strength, body, and weight.  (Indian corn has a higher starch content allowing it to ferment to higher alcohol levels.)

Once fermentation is complete, the ‘distiller’s beer’ of 8 or 9% abv is passed through one of two copper pot stills.  One still is a 600 litre pot and the other is much larger at 6000 litres.

The 600 litre copper pot still.

The 6000 litre copper pot still.

By law, Canadian whisky must be aged for at least 3 years in oak barrels. Some 40 Creek whiskies are aged for 10 years or more.  It isn’t just the length of time a whisky spends in cask that determines quality, the type of oak and the climate of the cellar also has an impact on the final product.  The amount of toasting the barrel undergoes is determined by the type of grain that will be aged in it.  Each type of grain will be aged separately in their own barrels before being blended into the final product.

40 Creek has daily tours through the winery and distillery.  You can call 905-945-9225 or 1-800-694-6798 for times and directions.

Tasting Notes:

Forty Creek Barrel Select:  A very smooth whisky with aromas of butterscotch, spice, vanilla, and a slight nutty character. ($24.95/750 ml)

Forty Creek Three Grain: A blend of malted barley, rye, and maize.  Each grain is aged in toasted white oak barrels (American oak).  Brimming with caramel, butterscotch, vanilla, walnuts, orange marmalade, and spice.  Smooth and silky on the palate with creamy oats, butterscotch, and spice on the palate.  A long, pleasant finish. Very reasonable priced at only $26.95 for 750 ml.

Forty Creek Double Barrel Reserve:  Each of the three grains is aged separately in white oak barrels and then blended together and aged for a second time in bourbon barrels that came all the way from Kentucky.  This second aging in the bourbon barrels allowed the blended whisky to take on subtle flavours from the bourbon, adding to the complexity of the finished whisky.  There is a sweetness on the nose with chocolate, butterscotch, rye bread, toasted spice, and walnuts.  Mouth-filling and rich on the palate with flavours of caramel and toasted walnuts and a long, lingering finish with a hint of sweetness.  Now offered at a reduced price of $54.95.

The Macallan Scotch Whisky

Last week I attended a tasting event hosted by the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers that focused on Macallan Single Malt Whisky.    Also included in the tasting were samples from Highland Park and Black Grouse.

The Macallan was established in 1824 when a farmer, named Alexander Reid, obtained one of the earliest licences to distil whisky.  Over the years he became known for the superior quality of his whisky.  Throughout the next several generations, The Macallan has changed hands several times, but luckily all owners were dedicated to producing a whisky of high quality and character.  In 1996, Highland Distillers gained stewardship of The Macallan, and in 1999, the Ederington Group bought a majority shareholding in partnership with Suntory, who own a minor stake.

The Macallan is located in the region of Speyside which is said to be the heartland of malt whisky distillation.  Speyside single malts are known for their elegance, complexity, and refined smokiness.  The Macallan fits the bill perfectly.

Macallan whisky is made with the upmost of care with specific production methods that give it its distinctive character.  The distillery’s very small and uniquely shaped copper stills are the smallest in Speyside and help to concentrate the flavours giving a spirit that is rich, fruity, characterful, and full-bodied.  Macallan also takes one of the finest cuts of any distillery in Scotland – just 16% is used to go into the oak casks for ageing and turning into Scotch whisky.   No caramel is added to enhance the colour of the whisky.  The dark colour is a result of the interaction between the spirit and the specific types of casks they use.  The casks are hand-crafted in Spain, or carefully selected Bourbon barrels from the USA.  American oak is dense and very hard and imparts flavours of vanilla, fresh pear and other fresh fruit, while Sherry casks, made from European oak, are less dense with bigger and more open pores, giving a rich, dark colour with flavours and aromas of spice and dried fruit.  Macallan does not use peat.

The Macallan is bottled at a higher alcohol strength than most Scotch whiskies – typically at 43% abv as opposed to 40% abv for most others.  The water used to dilute the whisky from the cask strength of about 60% is added in two batches.  The whisky is left to marry in cask with the first batch of water for about 8 months before the second batch of water is added.  This allows for a fully integrated whisky.

If you want to learn more, please go to the Macallan website , where there’s a ton of information about The Macallan and its whiskies.

Tasting Notes:

The Macallan Fine Oak 15 Years Old:  Matured in a combination of Bourbon and Sherry oak casks.  A medium straw coloured whisky with intense aromas of flowers, spice (cinnamon), caramel, vanilla, and creamy oatmeal.  On the palate it has a very smooth texture with flavours of chocolate, orange rind, and a floral note on the finish.  It has a long and very pleasant length.

The Macallan 12 Year Old:  Exclusively matured in ex-Sherry casks from Jerez in Spain.  This whisky has a deep gold colour imparted from the Spanish oak.  There are aromas of dried fruit (orange peel), caramel, and ginger with a bit of smokiness.  On the palate, it is very rich and concentrated, with flavours of smoky tobacco, spice, dried fruit, and caramel.  A delicious dram!

The Macallan Cask Strength:  This whisky was not diluted before bottling and is an impressive 58% alcohol.  There is no indication of age on the label but it is about 10 to 12 years old.  On the nose, it has very powerful aromas of dried fruit, dark chocolate, and smoke.  Although the alcohol level is very high it is still quite balanced on the palate with a full, smooth texture and rich flavours of dark chocolate, pear, and orange peel.  Incidentally, this whisky was delicious with a square of dark chocolate.

Highland Park 18 Years Old:  This whisky was made with peat, but it is definitely not a peat monster.  Very floral aromas are evident on the nose along with vanilla, honey, and some smoky peat.  It has a very creamy texture with concentrated flavours of honey, peat, dried fruit, and a bit of spice.

The Macallan 18 Years Old:  This is a beautiful whisky with quite a hefty price tag at $230/bottle.  Intense aromas of butterscotch, toffee, honey and spice are evident.  It has an incredibly silky smooth texture with flavours of butterscotch, honey, dried fruit, and a floral note.  A very long and pleasant finish lingers seemingly forever.

Black Grouse:  This was the only blended Scotch of the tasting – 51% grain whisky with some Famous Grouse and Laphroig added.  There are aromas of oatmeal, vanilla, and some subtle smoky peat.  It has a very smooth texture with complex flavours of chocolate, fruit and spice with a peaty finish.  A very nice Scotch indeed!

What is Cognac? – with Tasting Notes

I’m currently enroled in the WSET (Wine and Spirits Education Trust) diploma program and am studying for the Spirits unit exam.  During the last couple of weeks I’ve learned a great deal about the different brandies of the world and it has really opened my eyes to the very differernt styles of each.  In this post I will talk about Cognac.

What is Cognac?

All Cognac is brandy, but not all brandy is Cognac.  This is because Cognac is  a brandy that comes from a specific place – the Cognac region immediately north of the famous French wine-growing region of Bordeaux.  Just as sparkling wine that comes from Champagne is the only sparkling wine allowed to call itself Champagne, only brandy from the Cognac region can be called Cognac.

The grapes used for the production of Cognac are mainly Ugni Blanc (aka Trebbiano in Italy), with Colombard and Folle Blanche playing supporting roles.  These grapes are suitable for distillation because they produce low alcohol, high acid base wines.

The Crus of Cognac:

There are 6 crus, or specific areas, where the grapes are grown for the production of Cognac.  These areas have been differentiated by the amount of chalk in their soils.  It has been known for some time that grapes grown in very chalky soils produce the best base wines for distillation into Cognac.

Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne (not to be confused with the sparkling wine region which is completely different).  These areas have the highest chalk content in their soils and are the most distinguished of all.  They produce long ageing Cognacs full of finesse and complexity with hints of jasmine and lime blossom.

Borderies has more clay in its chalk and produces smooth, aromatic Cognacs that are faster ageing with hints of violets.

Fins Bois is even faster ageing, but is accessible and pleasant with a grapey fruitiness.

Bons Bois has diverse soils and is less distinguished.  The grapes grown here are often used to make liqueurs.

Bois Ordinaires has gravelly soils and they mainly focus on making dry white wines instead of Cognac.


Distillation takes place in small pot stills made of copper and the eaux-de-vie is always distilled twice.  The first run produces a product called brouillis which is about 26-29% abv.  The second run, called the bonne chauffe,  is when the heads (the volatile and sometimes toxic compounds) and the tails (the heavy compounds) are drawn off, leaving only the hearts in the finished distillate. The bonne chauffe is about 70-72% abv. The timing of when the tails begins is up to the distiller.  Sometimes the tails are run a bit in order to include some of the heavier, aromatic compounds into the eaux-de-vie to add some complexity and richness.

By law, distillation must be finished before midnight on March 31 following the harvest.  When an eaux-de-vie is first distilled it is given an age designation of compte 00.  On April 1 following the harvest it will become compte 0.  The following April 1, it will become compte 1, and the following April 1, it will become compte 2, and so on.  Think of April 1 as its birthday.


The eaux-de-vie (the finished distillate) will then be matured in oak where it will gain further richness and complexity.  Two types of French oak barrels with a 350-400 litre capacity are generally used.  Limousin oak with its coarse grain and higher phenolic compounds adds tannin and structure, while Troncais oak has tighter grain and adds lots of aromatic essences such as vanillin.

The young Cognac is typically first placed in new (1-4 year old) barrels for a short period of time; about 6 months to a year.  It is then transferred to older oak barrels for slow oxidation to occur and complexities to emerge.

Bottling Strength:

The Cognac must be brought down to 40% abv in order to be bottled.  This is done with de-ionized or demineralized water.  Care must be taken when reducing the alcohol strength of Cognac because if it is done too quickly the spirit will split, the flavours will be flattened, and an unpleasant soapy character will emerge.

Cognac Terminology:

VS (Very Special) – the youngest Cognac in the blend will be compte 2, meaning it will have been aged for at least 2 years.

VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale) – the youngest Cognac in the blend will be no younger than compte 4, meaning it is at least 4 years old.

XO (Extra Old)/Napoleon – the youngest Cognac in the blend will be no younger than compte 6, meaning it is at least 6 years old.

Tasting Notes:

Courvoisier VS Cognac:  The colour is a bright amber, with a copper hue.  There are aromas of bosc pear, bruised apple, apricot, caramel, and vanilla.  A very smooth texture coats the mouth, with warming alcohol and similar flavours of pear, apricot, caramel, and vanilla are evident on the palate.  It has a long length and is very balanced and pleasant to drink.

Courvoisier VSOP:  A bright amber colour with intense aromas of butterscotch, caramel, orange marmelade, jasmine and flowers.  It has a smooth texture with a full-body and warming, yet balanced alcohol.  There are rich flavours of butterscotch, vanilla, flowers, and citrus with a long, concentrated finish.  It’s a very enjoyable drink.  A bit more rich and concentrated than the VS mentioned above.

Remy Martin VSOP:  A bright amber colour.  There are intense and complex aromas of almond, orange peel, peach, vanilla, and brown sugar.  There is a silky smooth texture with well-integrated alcohol and good concentration of flavour.  Fruity flavours of orange peel, peach, and apricot dominate the palate and are supported by brown sugar and caramel on the long finish.

Hine Rare and Delicate Fine Champagne:  Fine Champagne is a designation given to Cognac that is a blend of Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne.  This Cognac is a bright amber colour with intense floral and spice aromas supported by rich caramel and toffee notes.  Fruity aromas of pear and apricot are also evident.  It has a very rich texture with warming alcohol and concentrated flavours of spice, apricot, violets and jasmine.  The long finish is clean and balanced.  I really like this Cognac.

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