About World Brandy

The word Brandy comes from the Dutch word brandewijn, ("burnt wine"), which is how the straightforward Dutch traders who introduced it to Northern Europe from Southern France and Spain in the 16th century described wine that had been "burnt," or boiled, in order to distill it. The origins of Brandy can be traced back to the expanding Moslem Mediterranean states in the 7th and 8th centuries. Arab alchemists experimented with distilling grapes and other fruits in order to make medicinal spirits. Their knowledge and techniques soon spread beyond the borders of Islam, with grape Brandy production appearing in Spain and probably Ireland (via missionary monks) by the end of the 8th century. Brandy, in its broadest definition, is a spirit made from fruit juice or fruit pulp and skin. More specifically, it is broken down into three basic groupings.

Brandy, like Rum and Tequila, is an agricultural spirit. Unlike grain spirits such as Whisky, Vodka, and Gin, which are made throughout the year from grain that can be harvested and stored, Brandy is dependent on the seasons, the ripening of the base fruit, and the production of the wine from which it is made. Types of Brandies, originally at least, tended to be location-specific. (Cognac, for example, is a town and region in France that gave its name to the local Brandy.) Important Brandy-making regions, particularly in Europe, further differentiate their local spirits by specifying the types of grapes that can be used and the specific areas (appellation) in which The grapes used for making the base wine can be grown.

Spanish Brandies

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.

Italian Brandies

Italy has a long history of Brandy production dating back to at least the 16th century, but unlike Spain or France there are no specific Brandy-producing regions. Italian Brandies are made from regional wine grapes, and most are produced in column stills, although there are now a number of small artisanal producers using pot stills. They are aged in oak for a minimum of one to two years, with six to eight years being the industry average. Italian Brandies tend to be on the light and delicate side with a touch of residual sweetness.

German Brandies

German monks were distilling Brandy by the 14th century and the German distillers had organized their own guild as early as 1588. Yet almost from the start, German Brandy (called weinbrand ) has been made from imported wine rather than the more valuable local varieties. Most German Brandies are produced in pot stills and must be aged for a minimum of six months in oak. Brandies that have been aged in oak for at least one year are called uralt or alter (meaning "older"). The best German Brandies are smooth, somewhat lighter than Cognac, and finish with a touch of sweetness.

United States Brandies

Brandy production in California dates back to the Spanish missions in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In the years following the Civil War, Brandy became a major industry, with a substantial export trade to Europe by the end of the century. For a time Leland Stanford, founder of Stanford University, was the world_s largest brandy producer. Phylloxera and National Prohibition almost shut down the industry in the 1920s.Repeal started things up again, but as with the bourbon industry, the advent of World War II resulted in the brandy producers further marking time. Soon after the end of the war the industry commissioned the Department of Viticulture and Oenology at the University of California at Davis to develop a prototype "California-style" brandy. It had a clean palate, was lighter in style than most European Brandies, and had a flavor profile that made it a good mixer. Starting in the late 1940s, the California brandy producers began to change over to this new style.

Contemporary California Brandies are made primarily in column stills from table grape varieties such as the Thompson Seedless and Flame Tokay, although a handful of small new-generation Cognac-inspired pot distillers, such as Jepson and RMS, are using the classic Ugni Blanc, Colombard, and Folle Blanche grapes. California Brandies are aged for two to 12 years in used American oak (both Brandy and Bourbon casks) to limit woodiness in the palate, although the pot distillers also use French oak. Several California distillers, most notably Korbel, have utilized the Spanish solera method of maturing their Brandy. California Brandies do not use quality designations such as V.S.O.P. or stars. The more expensive brands will usually contain a percentage of older vintages and pot-distilled Brandies in the blend.Latin American BrandiesIn Mexico a surprising amount of wine is made, but it is little known outside of the country because most of it is used for Brandy production. Mexican Brandies are made from a mix of grapes, including Thompson Seedless, Palomino, and Ugni Blanc. Both column and pot stills are used in production whereas the solera system is generally used for aging. Brandy now outsells tequila and rum in Mexico.South American Brandies are generally confined to their domestic markets. The best known type is Pisco, a clear, raw Brandy from Peru and Chile that is made from Muscat grapes and double-distilled in pot stills. The resulting Brandy has a perfumed fragrance and serves as the base for a variety of mixed drinks, including the famous Pisco Sour.Other Brandies from around the worldGreece produces pot-distilled Brandies, many of which, such as the well-known Metaxa, are flavored with Muscat wine, anise, or other spices. Winemaking in Israel is a well-established tradition dating back thousands of years. But Brandy production dates back only to the 1880s when the French Jewish philanthropist Baron Edmond de Rothschild established what has become the modern Israeli wine industry along French lines. Israeli brandy is made in the manner of Cognac from Colombard grapes, with distillation in both pot and column stills and maturation in French Limousin oak casks. In the Caucasus region, along the eastern shore of the Black Sea, the ancient nations of Georgia and Armenia draw on monastic traditions to produce rich, intensely flavored pot still Brandies both from local grapes and from such imported varieties as Muscadine (from France), Sercial and Verdelho (most famously from Madeira). South Africa has produced Brandies since the arrival of the first Dutch settlers in the 17th century, but these early spirits from the Cape Colony earned a reputation for being harsh firewater (witblits, white lightning, was a typical nickname). The introduction of modern production techniques and government regulations in the early 20th century gradually led to an improvement in the quality of local Brandies. Modern South African Brandies are made from Ugni Blanc, Colombard, Chenin Blanc, and Palomino grapes, produced in both pot and column stills, and aged for a minimum of three years in oak.
Top Picks for World Brandy
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
217644
Monteru
Rare Cask Finish "Sauternes" Brandy
Light gold color. Attractive, fruity, floral aromas and flavors of varnished wood, leather and tea leaves, caramelized roasted nuts and dried fruits, and geranium pear and melon with a satiny, vibrant, dry-yet-fruity medium-to-full body and a tingling, nuanced, medium-long rich spices, minerals, and creme brulee finish. A vibrantly delicious brandy with great flavor and texture.
94 points $57.99
Date Tasted: in our Chicago tasting lab
209789
Singani 63
Brandy
Clear color. Bright, fruity, floral aromas of orange blossoms, peach and papaya, tropical citrus, and tapioca with a silky, bright, dry-yet-fruity light-to-medium body and a tingling, complex, medium-long potpourri, pistachio oil, and minerals finish with soft tannins and no oak. A fantastically fragrant and delicious unaged brandy for all applications.
94 points $29.99
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
217645
Monteru
Rare Cask Finish "Sherry" Brandy
Light gold color. Attractive aromas and flavors of nougat, honeyed stone fruits and banana, white chocolate cookie, and lemon custard cake with a satiny, vibrant, fruity medium-to-full body and a warming, complex, long apricot marmalade, sandalwood, baking spices, and sweet cream finish. A silky, satisfying brandy with a rich core of fruit.
93 points $57.99
Date Tasted: in our Chicago tasting lab
217646
Monteru
Rare Cask Finish "Triple Toast" Brandy
Brilliant amber color. Aromas and flavors of leather bound cedar cigar box, peach-mango chutney, cracked peppercorns, nutmeg, and allspice, and fruitcake with a satiny, vibrant, fruity medium-to-full body and a warming, complex, medium-long oak and tobacco, brown spices, honey cream, and minerals and earth finish. A robust, spicy, very oak-influenced brandy for contemplative sipping or cigars.
93 points $57.99
Date Tasted: in our Chicago tasting lab
217205
Sarajishvili
XO Brandy
Dark copper color. Spicy, woody aromas and flavors of leather chair, dried fruits, chestnut honey, and pepper with a satiny, crisp, dry-yet-fruity medium body and a tingling, engaging, medium-length conditioned leather, spiced raisins, cola, and mossy earth finish. A nice woody brandy that will play nice nicely in whiskey cocktails.
Date Tasted: in our Chicago tasting lab
206218
Magnotta Distillery
10-Year Old Brandy
Copper color. Lively aromas of floral peaches, bananas, spiced pear, and coconut custard with a supple, fruity-yet-dry medium-to-full body and warming peppery spice, dried apple, tobacco, and chocolate cream finish with good length and depth. A very nice sipping brandy reminiscent of Armagnac; try with cigars.
92 points $29.95
Date Tasted: in our Chicago tasting lab
217634
Kvint
3 Year Old Brandy
Medium amber color. Fruity, toasty aromas and flavors of salty roasted nuts, caramelized fruits, and leather with a satiny, vibrant, dry-yet-fruity medium body and a smooth, appealing, snappy mocha, spiced nuts, and sandalwood finish. A smooth and flavorful aged brandy that will be very versatile.
91 points $5.99 Best Buy
Date Tasted: in our Chicago tasting lab