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.)

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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