Being in Bordeaux, I simply had to visit Cognac as well, since it is one of the drinks that match up really well with a good cigar. Instead of dealing with the most famous houses such as Hennessy or Martel, we decided to have a look at smaller yet very good producers – Hine and Braastad Cognac.
Cognac is made from the Ugni Blanc grape varietal which grows in the areas surrounding the town – Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne and Fins Bois (there are three more authorized zones and a few other varietals that can be used, but the quality of the resulting cognac is way lower).
After the harvest, the white wine from Ugni Blanc undergoes a double distillation in copper alambics (see picture above) and becomes a 70% eau-de-vie. The spirits (each year and often each allotment are treated separately) are then put into wooden casks and will need at least two years of aging to be called cognac. The final blend will be assembled by the maître des chais (master taster) from different casks, depending on the type of cognac he wants to obtain. There are different quality grades:
•Very Special (VS) or ***, 2 years of aging
•Very Superior Old Pale (VSOP), the youngest spirit is aged at least 4 years
•Extra Old (XO), the youngest spirit is aged at least 6 years, the average is around 20 years
•Premium cognacs, usually blended from ~50 years old spirits
•There are also vintages, blended from spirits of the same year
Enough of theory, let’s proceed to the tastings. Our first destination was Hine cognac house, created in 1817 by Thomas Hine, an English entrepreneur who came to France and married a daughter of one of local cognac producers. It is considered as a luxury brand and can’t be found in regular supermarkets. What’s particular about Hine, is that they don’t sell any VS and produce excellent vintage cognacs that I had a chance to try. They also have a special blend called “Cigar Reserve” which is supposed to be a perfect match for a good cigar.
Here are the tasting notes:
•H by Hine – Blend of 15 Petite Champagne cognacs, the youngest is 4 years old. Floral, not too complex scent, some of us even found it superior to the premium Triomphe because of its elegant and silky texture.
•Cigar Reserve – blend of more than 25 cognacs from various regions. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to try it with a cigar. It’s quite powerful, woody and of course won’t suit every cigar out there – you will need to choose something full-bodied.
•Triomphe – blend of more than 50 old cognacs from Grande Champagne. This is a magnificent drink. By far my favorite from their basic offer (Hine Talent which costs 4500 € is probably better), the Triomphe deploys exceptionally complex and deep notes of cedar, dried fruits and caramel. Unforgettable.
•1953 and 1957 vintages. Both are very good, balanced drinks with floral and fruity aromas, but I found the 1953 to be a little bit more interesting. Bad news – it’s completely sold out…
After this tasting session, we simply had to cross the river to get to our destination #2 – Braastad Cognac House. The story is quite similar – Sverre Braastad arrived from Norway in 1899 and married Edith Rousseau, the heiress of Tiffon, a cognac producer. Today, Braastad cognac is a best-selling drink in Norway. It is still run by the family.
It was a real pleasure to visit the distillery and the house, big thanks to Jan (grandson of Sverre Braastad) who showed us around and gave us the opportunity to taste some of their cognacs.
•Braastad VSOP. Among all the VSOPs that I tasted, this one stands very high. Mostly floral nose and long cocoa finish. Unbeatable price/quality ratio.
•Braastad XO Superior. This blend was recently introduced and is a marriage of the best and oldest cognacs from Grande/Petite Champagne regions. I totally fell in love with this cognac – it is an exquisite and smooth elixir. If you have a chance to try it, don’t hesitate.
•Château de Triac Réserve de Famille – special blend of 50+ y.o. cognacs from grapes around the family castle Château de Triac. I found the flavor a little bit too deep for my taste, it is simply overwhelming. Not for beginners :)
Speaking about the Château de Triac, Jan and Richard Braastad (who is the master taster) invited us to spend the night there, which we of course accepted. All I remember about the evening is countless glasses XO Superior and poker with Norwegian cognac merchants...
by Denis aka Inspector
(Inspector in Wine & other drinks on Oct 7th, 08)