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Admirers of Thomas Hardy, the 19th Century Poet and Novelist, who visit West Dorset, the South Wessex described in Hardy’s work, will at some point visit the small Town of Beaminster. Beaminster (pronounced ‘Beminster’) built in the golden Ham Hill stone of the region, is the real name of Hardy’s fictional town of Emminster in his novel ‘Tess of the D’Ubervilles’ Beaminster was also much loved by William Barnes, the 19th century Dorset Poet, who wrote of this peaceful place : 'Sweet Be'mi'ster, that bist abound By green an' woody hills all round, Wi' hedges, reachen up between A thousan' vields o' zummer green, Where elems' lofty heads to drow Their sheades vor hay-meakers below, An' wilde hedge-flow'rs do charm the souls 0' maidens in their evenin strolls.' As the Thomas Hardy devotees follow the Hardy Tour of Wessex, taking in Portland, Hardy’s the ‘Isle of Slingers’ used as the main setting for the novel ‘Well Beloved’, and including Dorchester, Hardy’s birthplace, better known as Casterbridge, they may well make an overnight stay at the 18th Century coaching inn, previously named the White Hart Hotel in Beaminster. They will perhaps have an evening meal in the restaurant, and finish their repast with a fine Cognac. They might ask the wine waiter to recommend a Cognac that will make them feel replete before bed. Possibly the waiter will suggest a Hine Rare and Delicate VSOP Cognac. The visitors may ask their Host why the hotel is now named the Hine Bar. Having been told, maybe then, the Thomas Hardy disciple will realise there is another celebrated Thomas, a very famous son of Beaminster to whom they should be raising their cut glass brandy goblets? ---The Other Dorset Thomas--- Thomas Hine was born in Beaminster in 1775, and left Dorset at the age of seventeen to take his chances in France primarily to learn the language. Despite this being during the time of the French Revolution he found work at Jarnac, birthplace of François Mitterrand, on the Charente River, in the heart of the Cognac vineyards. Eventually he married the daughter of the brandy producing firm who employed him and he became first a partner then achieved full ownership. But life was not easy for him, and it was shortly after the Napoleonic Wars, that being British and refusing to change his nationality, he was persecuted at the hands of the French and gave his name to Hine Cognac, recognised all over the world as the connoisseurs' cognac. He died in 1822 at the age of forty seven. His first son went on to become the first British Mayor ever to be elected to a French town. ---So What is Cognac as Opposed to Brandy?--- All Cognac is brandy, but not all brandy is Cognac. While brandy can be made anywhere in the world, true Cognac, an alcoholic distillation that captures the aromatic spirit of the wine, can be created only in a precisely enclosed area of the Charentes region of south-western France. Elsewhere, while brandy producers may use identical grapes, distil the wines precisely the way they do in Cognac, and even age the resultant brandy in the same style of oak casks, these brandies just won't taste the same. The sixth generation of Hines, cousins Jacques and Bernard Hine, now carry on the family tradition from the original Hine residence, with its tall windows overlooking the River Charente to the Grande Champagne vineyards beyond. It stands proudly in Jarnac at the very heart of the region. I pause here to comment, that we could be asking the after dinner wine-waiter for ‘Two large Hine Jarnacs please’ but since Roman times, Cognac has always been the larger and more important town. The word brandy is derived from ‘brandywijn’ or ‘brandwin’ a Dutch word which litera lly translates as "burnt wine." Brandy, simply put, is distilled wine. Like many of the major Cognac firms, Hine does not own vineyard property itself, nor does it distil any wine, but age them in the cellars under the Hine family residence. Instead, Hine works with dozens of local growers who refine their own brandies, storing them in barrels at their farms during the first few years of aging. Nearly all Hine Cognacs come from the region's two highest quality districts, Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne, whose soils have a greater proportion of chalk than the other four districts. Hine regularly acquires many young Cognacs from a number of reliable growers and distillers in order to obtain exactly the right mix of brandies they need. Some of these unions stretch back several generations to links his grandfather or great-grandfather established with particular families. The process of making Cognac starts in the vineyard, where the crisp, acidic wines, produced most often from St. Emilion grapes, are distilled twice in stills. The double-distillation procedure removes certain unpleasant-tasting impurities to help give a smoother, more refined eau-de-vie, which literally means "water-of-life." Once the different brandies are matured, the blender must reduce the potency of the spirit with purified water to bring it down to the legal selling strength. ---OK! So What Does it Taste Like?--- The Hine Cognac that we may, as ordinary mortals, have the honour of tasting in several years time, is being aged right now in selected oak barrels. The cellar master is sniffing, tasting and studying the brandy’s progress, juggling dozens on his palate and in his mind, and blending them to maintain the high quality product associated with the Hine signature. If you are going to smother the flavour and drown the Cognac with ice and cola or ginger ale, then dare I suggest cheap cooking brandy wi ll be adequate? If you are going to cook a fillet steak with a brandy , cream and peppercorn sauce, once again, any old brandy will do! But if you are going to treat it with the respect it deserves then do as Churchill suggests: "Good Cognac is like a woman. Do not assault it; coddle and warm it in your hands before you sip it." Yes please! ---Go On and Treat Yourself--- Do you know what VSOP stands for? Very Special Old Pale, which in French law determines that a VSOP Cognac must have aged for over four years. Hine ages their own VSOP for at least twice that time. Less than that and the blend must be labelled VS, meaning Very Special. I have to admit that many of the brandies I have afforded in the past should be labelled RG, or Rot Gut! Don’t the French have superb cultural taste? Unlike the modesty displayed by many English, and the almost guilt like feelings we can display at any personal indulgence, they have no compunction in declaring their honest enjoyment of things that we sometimes consider bad for us. French fashion, cheeses, wines, perfumes are superb in quality and appeal and the French openly show their pleasure at these luxuries. All the more interesting is the fact that Bernard Hine, acknowledged as one of Cognac's most experienced blenders and tasters, is a cigar smoker, as was Winston Churchill, a great Hine Cognac devotee. Bernard Hine will pair off a suitable cigar to a particular Hine Cognac, and recommend the right time to drink and smoke them, either after lunch or dinner. How refreshing in these such politically correct times of a rice cake and bottled still water? ---From My Local Independent Wine Retailer--- * Hine Cognac Signature VS described as floral and vanilla with length and finesse: £20.56 * Hine Cognac Rare and Delicate VSOP described as fruity, floral and mellow: £31.37 * Hine Antique is described as mellow, supple and a rich fl avour: £63.92 * Hine Cognac Triomphe is aged for forty to fifty years! Shall we describe it as aristocratic? : £187.50 * Hine Family Reserve is aged for forty five to fifty five years and is saved for private family functions and honoured guests. A limited number of bottles are released each year: £275.00 ---My Personal Moment with Hine Cognac--- During my ten years as a Restaurant and Bar owner in the town of Beaminster, Thomas Hines’s birthplace, I had the privelidge to serve many bottles and glasses of Hine Cognacs to our diners. And to imbibe some myself! A year after we sold our business, we were invited to a very exclusive wine and food tasting in a local, well applauded Restaurant. I had learnt earlier on in my catering career how to behave at these events (Swallow or Spew) and found myself hovering over the Hine Cognac table where I was poured an inviting and generous goblet of Hine’s Cognac Triomphe. It was warm, mellow and soft and I quietly appreciated the moment. My host at the affair then introduced me to the attractive Frenchman who had poured the golden amber liquid into my large, narrow necked brandy glass. As we shook hands, I caught the name of my attractive wine waiter, Bernard Hine, sixth generation Cognac producer who had come back to visit his roots. I was honoured indeed and it is a memory I will always treasure! ---A Suggestion For Christmas--- As you wander round the shops, maybe browse online, searching for an appropriate Christmas gift, then do consider Hine Cognac. Look for the famous Hine logo of the golden antlered Deer. The VS and the VSOP are affordable and readily available in all good online and High Street Wine Stores. Wrap your present beautifully with care and love and maybe attach a card with a little tale about a young man named Thomas, from Thomas Hardy country who went out one day to seek his fortune in France…. Hine is part of the luxury goods gr oup LVMH: Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton.
(Thomas Hine & Co. is owned by Moet Hennessey Louis Vuitton)