About Spanish Spirits

As with many European countries, Spain produces a wide range of spirits and liqueurs, be they cream liqueurs, digestifs, gins, vodkas and fruit liqueurs, however, the most recognized spirit from Spain is brandy, especially those from Jerez zone. Aged in oak, styles vary, from one year of wood aging to the Gran Riserva, aged for a period averaging ten years; these are of exceptional quality.

Brandy de Jerez is made by the Sherry houses centered around the city of Jerez de la Frontera in the southwest corner of Spain. Virtually all Brandy de Jerez; however, is made from wines produced elsewhere in Spain -- primarily from the Airen grape in La Mancha and Extremadura -- as the local Sherry grapes are too valuable to divert into Brandy production. Nowadays most of the distilling is likewise done elsewhere in Spain using column stills. It is then shipped to Jerez for aging in used Sherry casks in a solera system similar to that used for Sherry wine. A solera is a series of large casks (called butts), each holding a slightly older spirit than the previous one beside it. When brandy is drawn off (racked) from the last butt (no more than a third of the volume is removed) it is replenished with brandy drawn from the next butt in line all the way down the solera line to the first butt, where newly distilled brandy is added. This system of racking the brandy through a series of casks blends together a variety of vintages (some soleras have over 30 stages) and results in a speeding up of the maturation process.

Basic Brandy de Jerez Solera must age for a minimum of six months, Reserva for one year and Gran Reserva for a minimum of three years. In practice, the best Reservas and Gran Reservas are frequently aged for 12 to 15 years. The lush, slightly sweet and fruity notes to be found in Brandy de Jerez come not only from aging in Sherry casks, but also from the judicious use of fruit-based flavor concentrates and oak essence (boise).

Penedès Brandy comes from the Penedès region of Catalonia in the northeast corner of Spain near Barcelona. Modeled after the Cognacs of France and made from a mix of regional grapes and locally-grown Ugni Blanc of Cognac, it is distilled in pot stills. One of the two local producers (Torres) ages in soleras consisting of butts made from French Limousin oak, whereas the other (Mascaro) ages in the standard non-solera manner, but also in Limousin oak. The resulting Brandy is heartier than Cognac, but leaner and drier than Brandy de Jerez.

Top Picks for Spain
210287
Cardenal Mendoza
"Carta Real" Solera Gran Reserva Brandy
Bronze color. Complex, smoky aromas of dark roasted nuts, baked fruits, suede, and tobacco with a satiny, crisp, fruity sweet medium-to-full body and a warming, complex, long molasses, herbs and barks, raisin bran, and nougat finish with chewy well-integrated tannins and heavy oak. A sensationally complex and nuanced, well-aged Spanish brandy that will be great with cigars.
Date Tasted: in our Chicago tasting lab
210286
Cardenal Mendoza
Solera Gran Reserva Brandy
Mahogany color. Rich, complex aromas of creme brulee, chocolate cherry fudge, roasted nuts, and leather with a supple, crisp, fruity sweet medium-to-full body and a warming, long mocha, cola, dried tropical fruitcake, and peppery spices finish with fine tannins and moderate oak. A very stately and evolving Spanish brandy for contemplative sipping.
96 points $44.99
Date Tasted: in our Chicago tasting lab
209101
Ysabel Regina
Pedro Ximénez Brandy
Golden amber color. Bright, creamy, fruity complex aromas of cream of wheat with peaches, frosted orange cake, acacia honey, and buffalo grass with a glycerous, tangy, off-dry medium-to-full body and a tingling, intricate, long tonka bean, almond custard tart, exotic spices, and sarsaparilla finish with light oak. A brilliantly fruity and complex brandy that has a great lightness of being.
Date Tasted: in our Chicago tasting lab
205792
Gin Mare
Mediterranean Gin
Clear. Wonderful aromas of spicy orange chai, carrot-zucchini cake, and a pine with a silky, dryish medium body and a oily cinnamon, clove, pepper, honeyed citrus zest, and potpourri finish. Delicious, distinctive, and vibrant.
Date Tasted: in our Chicago tasting lab
209763
Master’s
London Dry Gin
Clear color. Delicate, creamy, spicy aromas of lavender, brown spices, and pinecone with a supple, crisp, dry-yet-fruity medium body and a graceful, interesting, medium-length juniper, coriander custard, pink pepper, and wet stone finish. A rock solid gin for all occasions.
Date Tasted: in our Chicago tasting lab
209638
Santamania
London Dry Gin
Clear color. Delicate, attractive aromas of spicy panettone, lemon honey tea, and lemon meringue pie with a silky, bright, fruity medium body and an appealing, medium-length orange sorbet, lemon pepper, juniper, and minerals finish. A nice mild gin that is sure to please.
93 points $42.67
Date Tasted: in our Chicago tasting lab
209657
Santamania
Premium Vodka
Bright clear color. Delicate, citrusy, complex fruity grassy aromas of lime zest and honey cream with a soft, crisp, dry-yet-fruity light-to-medium body and a tingling, interesting, brisk pineapple gelatin candy, powdered sugar, and pink pepper finish. A lovely citrusy vodka that makes the mouth water; try in gin cocktails.
92 points $36.75
Date Tasted: in our Chicago tasting lab
205472
Xoriguer
Gin-Mahón
Clear with a platinum cast. Very distinctive aromas of lemongrass, verbena, juniper, dried oil paint, and dusty cedar with a silky, dryish medium-to-full body and a well integrated, peppery spice, creamy vanilla nougat, mint, and earth accented finish. An artfully composed gin that will shine in craft cocktails.
90 points $39.99
Date Tasted: in our Chicago tasting lab
210288
Romate
Brandy
Copper color. Rich, complex aromas of dark sautéed almonds, leather, and raisin bread pudding with a velvety, soft, dry-yet-fruity medium body and a warming, intriguing, medium-long nutskin, cedar, and cocoa finish with medium tannins and moderate oak. A wonderfully lively Spanish brandy that hits all of the right toasty, nutty notes.
89 points $14.99 Best Buy
Date Tasted: in our Chicago tasting lab
214459
Lola y Vera
Gin
Clear color. Bright, grainy, earthy aromas and flavors of wet paint, pepper, dusty grain husk, and cucumber and celery skins with a satiny, shy, dry light-to-medium body and a polished, uncommon, brisk chalk eraser, wheat germ and bran, and juniper muffin finish. A very light and mellow, genever style gin.
88 points $25.99
Date Tasted: in our Chicago tasting lab