Reviews 6: Hine 1960
Hine has launched its 1960 Cognac in the UK, at around £300 a bottle. Expensive? Well … you pay £6 per year of ageing, and the Cognac comes free. A small sip of 3 cl or less will detain you for a discursive half hour, and you can do that at least 23 times.
I’ve tasted a number of Hine vintages and bought a number of Early-Landed Vintages, too; the latter is a variant aged not in the relative warmth and gentleness of Jarnac, but in cold, damp Bristol. All are good or better – of course; second-rate raw materials wouldn’t qualify for this treatment, but would be consigned to blended oblivion. In truth, I prefer the Jarnac-aged versions: they are fuller-bodied, more articulate and more engaging. But the delicacy and finesse of the Early Landed versions is delicious, too, and it would be a shame to flop into a coffin without having tried one.
Fine old Cognac is an object of wonder. It’s as the liquid equivalent of the truffle. The pleasure of a truffle is almost entirely connected with its scents. When you eat a slice of truffle, white or black, it’s like soft cardboard, and has a neutrally fungal flavour of no particular distinction. It’s the disturbingly pheromonal pleasure of its scents which reels you back, time after time. Those scents are palpable both in primary form, as you sniff the truffle itself, and in the aromatic dimension of its flavour -- which seems to be released in conjunction with other flavours, such as macerating oil or a warm dish of pasta. Aroma is what makes you reach for your wallet.
So with fine old Cognac. Its scents are so compelling that they can prickle the nape of your neck – and when you sip, too, it’s the aromatic component of the flavours, blossoming somewhere up above the back of the throat, which enchants. A sip of Cognac becomes interesting when it vapourises on your tongue; the rigour of its spirit glow is an afterthought.
[I realise that this is a distinction which may be scientifically untenable, in that almost all flavour perceptions beyond the basic sensations of salt, sweet, sour, bitter and umami are registered in the olfactory bulb rather than on the tongue. Yet instinctually it still makes sense to me. My beloved Madirans, for example, are flavour wines, a tongue-assault, a throat massage -- the very opposite of Cognac in that sense.]
Anyway, what’s the 1960 like? Fifty years of ageing in Limousin oak and glass have left it amber. It greets you with roses and stones. You remember that brandy is burnt wine, and that empyreumatic character is diagnostically present: sweet embers or burnt raisins, though very distant and echoing here. The roses are joined by violets, white almonds, faint jasmine – a plant distiller’s workshop in the warm Grasse air. I guess it’s the difference between a 40% concentration of alcohol and a 13% concentration, but the aroma of spirits like this is so much more of an embrace than wine can ever be; your nose is soon lost in the warm cleavage of the spirit. By then it’s vanilla, suede gloves, a twist of tobacco. And so on: venerable spirit is loquacious … but I don’t want to bore you, and it’s time to sip. Needless to say, a small sip is all that’s needed; it detonates softly on the tongue, sending shards of scent upwards: leather, spices, stone and flowers. They fall and fade slowly, like the dying remains of a showy civic firework drifting down through the night air. You sink back into the glow and its dry sweetness. Yes, it was worth it.
AJ Reviews: all reviews are based on unsolicited samples. Submission of a sample does not guarantee a review. If sending a sample, please use recyclable packing materials (cardboard) if possible. Reviews can be quoted provided www.andrewjefford.com is cited as source. No scores: too boring, too obsessive, too falsely precise. Coups de Coeur (a particular and possibly irrational enthusiasm) are indicated by ◊!