The Cognacs of Bernard Hine
David L. Ross
Posted: April 1, 1993
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Bernard Hine offers a wealth of opinion and advice on pairing a particular cigar with one of his Cognacs, even though he cheerfully calls himself an amateur when it comes to a good smoke. But first, he always analyzes the Cognac itself, drawing out in detail its subtleties and specifics that narrow the choice of cigars.
Hine says that the firm's VSOP is a "Fine Champagne Cognac," which means it is a blend of Cognacs from the region's two highest quality districts: Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne. The average age of the blend is eight to ten years old. According to Hine, the firm's VSOP "shows some character, age and smoothness." After you first take a gentle sniff from a glass, he says the Hine VSOP typically exhibits a certain fruitiness and floweriness on the nose, and these aromas are amplified, after a sip, on the palate. Hine adds that the firm's VSOP is usually consumed with lighter food, enjoyed after a lunch perhaps, and is also very popular in warmer climates. He asserts that as the Cognac is relatively young in age, it's a bit aggressive, but it nevertheless displays a great overall balance on the palate. This is evidenced, he suggests, by its relatively long aftertaste or "finish," a term professional tasters use to describe the duration of flavor after the sip of Cognac is consumed.
As for a cigar to smoke with a Hine VSOP, he recommends a younger cigar, perhaps in a darker wrapper, like a Maduro. The Maduro wrapper--offering some milder, sweeter flavors--would be a fine complement to Hine's fresh, fruity VSOP. He also recommends something like a Cuban Romeo y Julieta Exhibition No. 4, if Cuban cigars are available.
Like its younger VSOP cousin, Hine Antique is also a Fine Champagne Cognac. The average age of the blend is 20 to 25 years old. This Cognac too possesses a great deal of fruitiness, Hine says, but there is on the nose and palate an additional note of rancio, which gives it a certain pungency or nuttiness. (The word rancio is most often used in describing the flavor of Sherry or certain kinds of dessert wines.) There is also a pronounced taste of vanilla, thanks in part to the older age of the Cognacs in the blend, a reflection of their prolonged stay in oak barrels.
Overall, Hine says, "Balance is the best word associated with Antique." The Cognac is appreciated equally by connoisseurs and the "ladies," Hine says. Given the woodsy, rancio flavors of Antique, Hine advises taking the time to really appreciate a good, medium-bodied cigar. He suggests, for example, a Montecristo No. 3 or 4. As a variation, he also proposes a smaller-sized Cohiba, one of the greatest cigars available from Cuba.
Hine is particularly proud of the firm's Triomphe, an extremely old blend of Cognacs that come exclusively from the Grande Champagne district. The average age of the blend is 40 to 50 years old. According to Hine, this rare Cognac displays "how the rancio has developed into a very rich flavor." Among the aromas he finds while nosing the blend are leather, a strong "underwood," or a kind of mossiness or woodsy moldiness, as well as tobacco.
Given Triomphe's extremely complex, spicy and long-lasting flavors, Hine recommends something "a bit more substantial" as far as a cigar is concerned. Again, Hine shows a preference for the Cohiba marque, naming specifically, in order of descending size, the Lanceros, the Esplendidos or the Corona Especial.
For a slight variation on the Cohiba theme, Hine suggests pairing Triomphe with the legendary Cohiba Robusto, a diminutive 5-inch powerhouse of a cigar with a generous 50 ring gauge. (See CIGAR AFICIONADO, Autumn 1992, for a full account regarding Cohiba cigars.)
Hine's Family Reserve is very close to Hine's heart. It is a Cognac which is produced in extremely limited quantities, he says. The Cognac's name takes its origin from the fact that Hine's father and uncle used to "reserve" or set aside small batches of a special blend. The Cognac was strictly rationed for family occasions or for privileged guests who visited the family residence in Jarnac.
Like his father and uncle before him, Bernard Hine continues the family tradition, blending very small quantities of the Family Reserve, as needed. In describing the Cognac, he says, "Family Reserve has the age of Triomphe, with a certain subtleness of Antique." He strives to create something "a little lighter" than Triomphe, but with beautiful elegance. As for savoring a glass of Triomphe, Hine suggests a rich, medium-bodied cigar, but "something not as aggressive" in taste.
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