Bernard Hine has impeccable manners. However, as we meet for an apéritif at Hine House, he is a little disgruntled. The source of his unhappiness is a stomach upset which means he is unable to indulge in the foie gras and the 1953 Vintage port, among other treats. A lesser man would have made his excuses, but Bernard’s sense of duty and hospitality doesn’t permit such a course of action. Indeed, his discontent appears to be based more on his inability to fully participate in the dinner than any personal inconvenience.
The surroundings are historic: Hine House, one of the oldest in Jarnac, has stood on the banks of the Charente for more than 250 years. Following his arrest during the French Revolution, Thomas Hine, an Englishman from Dorset, married a French girl whose father owned a Cognac house; the business was renamed Thomas Hine & Co in 1817.
Hine specialises in single-vintage Cognacs from the Grande Champagne region. According to Bernhard Hine, the sixth generation of his family involved in the business, ‘The vintage is the year the grapes were harvested, the quality of the wine being very closely linked to the conditions of soil and climate prevailing that year.’ In Jarnac, Hine maintains tradition; during great years, the family sets aside casks of the most exceptional Cognacs and, upon reaching peak maturity, these are either transferred into demi-johns or bottled immediately.
A small number of bottles of the landmark 1961 vintage are being released in the UK (Berry Bros & Rudd £495). It was an extremely small crop in the region: heavy late spring frosts and lower than average rainfall between May and October concentrated the aromas and flavours in the grapes. Hine describes the 1961 as ‘a powerful vintage with a bright amber colour, aromas of nuts, orange peel and soft spices, a powerful palate and great depth reminiscent of hazelnuts and crème brûlée and an extremely long aftertaste’.