Origin: Cognac, France
Hine Triomphe is the epitome of fine cognac that is about half a century in the making. Hine selects eaux-de-vie exclusively from the Grande Champagne region of Cognac (which is famous for producing the finest cognac grapes because of its chalky soil) and then ages them for around 50 to 60 years in oak barrels. This means that the cognacs must rest in oak barrels for a staggering half a century or so before they are ready to be blended and bottled to create the Hine Triomphe, which is a blend of over 50 cognacs.
A cognac does not always improve with age because with prolonged exposure to oak the fruit flavours may become overborne by the wood. The House of Hine appears to be fully aware of this issue and therefore tends to keep wood influence to a minimum by adopting a wood policy that makes use of the finer and more tightly grained Tronçais oak that has less tannin and more lignin than its main rival in the cognac world, Limousin oak. Both are French oak, but the Tronçais forest was planted by French people at the request of Jean-Baptiste Colbert (then Minister of Louis XIV) to supply oak to the French Navy so that it could have a better chance at blowing its Dutch and English rivals out of the water (literally!). The resulting trees in the forest are tall and slender and more crowded than those in the Limousin forest, which explains why the wood from Tronçais has tighter grains. These tighter grains make the oak more impermeable than Limousin oak, and this means that alcohol aged in Tronçais oak tends to draw out less wood flavours and tannins. The result of Hine’s policy to keep wood to a minimum is that the fruit notes in the Triomphe shine brightly through the thin mist of wood, and this is important. After all, eaux-de-vie from Grande Champagne is highly regarded as the crème de la crème of cognac because its chalky terrain is said to nourish grapes and make them ideal for producing brandy with finesse. It would be a shame to mask that in any way. Hine does the opposite, and accentuates it with the wood notes.
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of this cognac is its expression of that often sought-after characteristic of very old cognac: rancio. It is what separates the men from the boys, and it can be explained as the character than shines from only the finest old cognacs. Rancio can be described as the gouleyante or the “lively” aspect of the cognac – its being, presence or mystique. Rancio generally begins to appear in cognacs aged for 10 years and then can intensify with age, developing and evolving with each year and decade that passes. Many believe it reaches its peak at 50 years, but what exactly rancio tastes like is open to debate – mushrooms, cheese, earthiness, bitter nuts and the distinctive umami nature of soy are just some descriptors. In my opinion, rancio at this age is magic, it offers an underlying earthiness with the bite of bitter nuts, oiliness and bright eucalyptus intermingling with varying shades of herbs and pot pouri with dried petals and tobacco – amazing, particularly when melded with bright fruit eaux-de-vie from Grande Champagne!
Nose: An almost perfect fusion of mild wood intermingles with sparkling mineral water, a wedge of lime, vanilla, blanched almonds, tobacco stained wool, saffron and blackberry confectionery and fruity eaux-de-vie as sprigs of mint develop with occasional hints of toothpaste (in a good way) and the explosion of a cap gun.
Taste: The soft contours of oak flavour weave a pattern of labyrinthine complexity, elegant and delightfully smooth on the entry but with a fire that takes hold at mid-palate and then recedes into the finish – the bite of a cigar and dried tobacco mingles with dried fruit, bitter walnuts, dark chocolate and preserved cherries as the taste of truffle oil with mushrooms adds an earthiness that is accompanied by more floral and herbaceous undertones that come in the form of bright mint, eucalyptus, dried petals, pot pouri and rose Turkish delight. All the while that Grande Champagne eaux-de-vie shines.
Finish: The wood takes hold on the finish, elegant yet drying with pepper, spice, transparent tannins, tobacco and leather and notes of rancio and eaux-de-vue continue to shine.