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H by Hine Fine Champagne Cognac (VSOP)

Review: H by Hine Fine Champagne Cognac (VSOP)    88.5/100  
A review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Published November 14, 2014

Hine is one of the oldest Cognac Houses in the commune of Jarnac, (within the Cognac appellation of France of course), and Hine has produced their Cognac since 1763. Their new H by Hine Fine Champagne Cognac (VSOP) is produced from a blend 20 Cognac spirits which in turn were each produced from grapes grown in 2 of the finest crus in the heart of France’s Cognac appellation, the Grande Champagne and the Petite Champagne. As this Cognac carries a VSOP designation, I should point out that the youngest eaux de vie in the H by Hine Fine Champagne Cognac blend must be a minimum of 4 years old.

For those unfamiliar with Cognac and its various designations, all cognac must be produced from a specific region of France whose appellation was first set out by decree on May 1, 1909. Since 1938, this appellation has been composed of six crus: Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies, Fins Bois, Bon Bois, and Bois a Terroir. (You can think of each of these crus as specific grape growing regions within the overall appellation.) The grape juice from which cognac is distilled must be produced solely from white grapes which have been grown within the overall Cognac appellation.

Additionally, Cognac must be distilled twice upon a copper Charentes Still. The resulting distillate must be aged in new french oak or french oak that previously contained Cognac eaux de vie. The minimum age for Cognac is 2 years, however if Cognac carries an age statement, it must be the youngest cognac in the blend which is represented on the bottle’s label.

Note: I was provided my sample bottle for this review by Woodman Wines and Spirits to review on my website, H by Hine VSOP Fine Champagne Cognac is currently available in Ontario through the LCBO.

H by Hine SAM_1340In the Bottle 4/5

H by Hine VSOP arrives in an attractive red cardboard box display which unfortunately is not shown in my photograph to the left because my particular box was damaged quite badly during shipping. (But trust me, the box is very nice.) Inside that box is a medium tall bar room style cylindrical bottle which houses the Fine Champagne Cognac. The bottle is sealed with a quality wood topped cork enclosure which is protected from drying out by a brown metal foil. I like the presentation, although by Cognac standards it is a little understated.

In the Glass 9/10

When I poured the VSOP Cognac into my tulip shaped sipping glass I noticed the spirit had a nice rich amber glow which to me seemed quite inviting. Although it was not as dark as some of the other VSOP cognac I have tasted lately, I was unconcerned, as the colour I am seeing is consistent with a spirit aged in new oak for several years, and perhaps the darker colour of the other spirits had more to do with caramel than with extra aging.

When I tilted and twirled my glass, the cognac left a light sheen upon the inside, the crest of which slowly dropped some medium-sized droplets which ambled back down into the spirit below leaving trails of slender legs. Again this is consistent with my expectations and visually the spirit seems very appealing.

The breezes above the glass carried a nice blended aroma which represents a melding of oak and wood spice, some vibrant fresh fruit and light toffee scents. The spiciness of the oak is firm but not assertive which appeals to me as sometimes oak can dominate a spirit to the detriment of the other aromas and flavours.

As I let the cognac sit and breathe, I noticed that the fruit-like smells seemed to grow in the glass. Fresh green grapes, some sliced yellow apples, bits of orange peel and marmalade, and canned apricot all seemed to be swimming in the breezes above my glass giving me an impression of youthful vibrancy which seemed to run alongside a darker richer oak and raisin character. There is a nice smoky tobacco scent lurking in the air, and a few floral accents which remind me of camphor, lavender and jasmine tea. The aroma appeals to me and I have scored it accordingly.

In the Mouth 53.5/60

The first sip suggested to me that this cognac, while being somewhat more mellow than other cognac I have been sampling lately, is also full of subtle flavour nuances which are waiting to be discovered. Again I found the oak and wood spices were firm, but not necessarily dominant. There was a strong presence of fresh fruit which traversed across the palate in lockstep with the oak. Flavours of fresh green grapes led the parade; but they were quickly joined by orange and citrus peel, plump raisins, and the sweetness of canned peaches and pears. (There was a little apricot brandy within that fruity montage as well).

As the second sip was taken those nuances I mentioned earlier began to reveal themselves as a combination of floral and herbal flavours. Menthol, camphor, iris and lilac all stepped forward followed by spicy cloves, bits of peppermint, and little bursts of cinnamon. Although the spirit seemed to grow in complexity as I slowly sipped my glencairn, that mellow nature I noticed at the outset was maintained throughout my sampling session, resulting in a spirit that I would say is very approachable and easy to enjoy.

In the Throat 13/15

H by Hine Fine Champagne VSOP is a light to medium bodied spirit with a strong herbal/floral punch at the finish. The exit featured flavours of green grapes, camphor and lilac as well as a wonderful menthol coolness. Delicious!

The Afterburn 9/10

Last year I sampled the Hine Rare VSOP Cognac which was constructed from 25 different eaux de vie spirits from the Grand Champagne and Petit Champagne crus. The new H by Hine VSOP is in turn constructed from 20 different eaux de vie spirits from the same region. I was afraid, before I began my sampling sessions, that something might have been lost in this newer blend with its seemingly less complex construction. I am happy to report however, that nothing could be further from the truth. H by Hine Fine Champagne VSOP is (in my opinion anyway) every bit as good as its predecessor, and in fact actually scored a point higher in my scoring system. It is a wonderful spirit!.

You may click this link to read some of my other Brandy and Cognac Reviews

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Suggested Recipe

While some people scoff at the notion of mixing Cognac into cocktails and bar drinks, the truth is that Brandy and Cognac are perhaps the original cocktail mixers. It was not until these spirits disappeared in the 1870’s (until the end of the 19th century because of the phylloxera), that other spirits such as whisky, rum and gin began to dominate the mixed drink category. Here is a recipe which has is origins in those earlier times when Brandy and Cognac were kings of the cocktails.

The Classic SAM_1370The Classic

2 oz H by Hine Fine Champagne VSOP
1 oz Orange Curacao
1/2 oz fresh Lemon Juice
tsp sugar syrup
dash of Maraschino Liqueur
ice

Add the first five ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice
Shake until the sides frost
Strain into a chilled rocks glass with ice
Garnish with a wedge of lemon

Enjoy Responsibly!

Note: If  you are interested in more original cocktail recipes, please click this link (Cocktails and Recipes) for more of my mixed drink recipes!

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My Final Score is out of 100 and you may (loosely) interpret the score as follows:

0-25     A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49   Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59  You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69   Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74    Now we have a fair mixing spirit. Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79    You may begin to serve this to friends, again probably still cocktail territory.
80-84    We begin to enjoy this spirit neat or on the rocks. (I will still primarily mix cocktails)
85-89    Excellent for sipping or for mixing!
90-94    Definitely a primary sipping spirit, in fact you may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+       I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.

Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and  Bronze medal  scale as follows:

70 – 79.5    Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
80 – 89.5     Silver Medal (Recommended for sipping and or a high quality mixer)
90 – 95         Gold Medal (Highly recommended for sipping and for sublime cocktails.)
95.5+            Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)

 
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