July 6, 2016
I did write about Cognac v. Armagnac last November; what I did not mention is they they have a cousin: Spanish Brandy, or Brandy de Jerez.
Let me start by making it clear that Spanish Brandy is actually my favorite; I learned to appreciate it during the years I lived in Venezuela and during my numerous visits to Spain. As compared to Cognac or Armagnac a good Brandy de Jerez is somewhat sweeter, but above all, significantly smoother and, if you like, ''creamier''.
The word Brandy comes from the Dutch word ''brandewijn'' - meaning ''burned wine''. How did the Dutch get into this? The Netherlands where the first international market for what was originally called ''aguardiente'' (firewater); they renamed it ''brandewijn'' and distributed it through Europe and England. Eventually it was shortened to Brandy, and that is the name that stuck.
Oddly enough the art of distilling was brought to Spain by the non-alcohol consuming Moors who occupied most of the Iberian Peninsula from 711 AD to 1492. The stills they brought were supposed to be used to make alcohol for medical purposes and to make perfumes and fragrances; I strongly suspect the that these purposes were largely ignored by the Spanish population.
There are four factors that differentiate Brandy de Jerez from its French cousins:
The first difference is obviously the region; all Brandy de Jerez comes from the Jerez region in Andalucía, the southern most province of Spain
The second difference is in the grapes: The grape used for brandy is mostly Airén, a grape also used extensively for Sherry (see Fortified Wines), and which also comes from the Jerez Region.
The third difference are the barrels - all barrels, mostly American oak, were used to make Sherry before being ''promoted'' to brandy.
The fourth difference is the ''solera'' technique; barrels with older brandy are mixed with newer brandy in a carefully designed sequence until the mix is old enough to be bottled from the casket.
As with their wines the Spaniards have a clear method to distinguishing between different quality levels:
• Brandy de Jerez Solera (minimum age of one year)
• Brandy de Jerez Solera Reserva (three years)
• Brandy de Jerez Solera Gran Reserva (10 years)
The brands you want to be looking for are Carlos I, Cardinal Mendoza or Gran Duque d'Alba. Living in Pennsylvania restricts your choices, and the only one I could find here is the last one.
Alas, at least I found one!