Fine n' Dandy - a Guide About Brandy; a categorical look into what brands a brandy as a brandy!
OriginsThe origin of brandy (derived from the Dutch for ‘burnt wine’) is closely associated with the development of distillation.
As far back as ancient Greece and Rome, concentrated alcoholic beverages were produced. Brandy in its current form first emerged in the 12th Century and grew to become generally popular in the 14th Century.
The production of brandy was originally a preservation method for the storage and transportation of wine, as well as lessening import taxes which were measures on volume. Water was added back into the brandy shortly before consumption, returning that which was removed in the distillation process.
Not too long passed until it was discovered that the spirit tasted immeasurably better after storage in wooden casks and so the process developed from a solution to a logistical issue into a proven and preferred method.
As most brandies are derived from grapes, it seems fitting that the majority of brandies in the world have arisen from regions that are also noted for their wines. At the end of the 19th century the main players in the brandy market were France, Spain (and their colonies), and Eastern Europe – consisting of countries in the Black Sea region; including Bulgaria, the Crimea, and Georgia. At this time, Armenian and Georgian brandies were considered to be some of the best in the world.
The storehouses of the Romanov Court in St. Petersburg were regarded as the largest collections of cognacs and wines in the world—much of it from the Transcaucasia region of Georgia. During the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, upon the storming of the Winter Palace, the action paused for a week or so as the rioters engorged on the substantial stores of cognac and wines within!
Drinking TemperatureBrandy is traditionally enjoyed neat at room temperature in a brandy snifter or tulip glass. In Eastern regions it is often enjoyed on the rocks. This points to some contention regarding the ideal method of enjoyment brandy – hot vs. cold.
On the hot (room temperature) side:- When drunk at room temperature, brandy is often slightly warmed by holding the glass cupped in the palm or by gently heating it. However, excessive heating of brandy may cause the alcohol vapor to become too strong, to the extent that its aroma can become overpowering.
On the cold side:- Many are of the opinion that brandy has a more pleasant aroma at a lower temperature, e.g., 16 °C. In Australian homes, this would imply that brandy should be cooled rather than heated for maximum enjoyment.
- Alcohol (40% in a typical brandy) becomes thin when it is heated (and more viscous when cooled). Thus, cool brandy produces a fuller and smoother mouthfeel and less of a "burning" sensation.
LegalitiesThere is often confusion about cognac and brandy. A useful adage to remember is that all cognac is brandy but not all brandy is cognac!
This is because the European Union and some other countries legally enforce the use of the name ‘cognac’ as the exclusive name for brandy produced and distilled in the Cognac area of France, as well as the name Armagnac for brandy from the Gascony area of France, made using traditional techniques. Since these are considered Protected Designation of Origin products, they refer not just to styles of brandy but brandies from a specific region.
For example, a brandy made in California in a manner identical to the method used to make cognac, and which tastes similar to cognac, cannot be called cognac in places that restrict the use of that term to products made in the Cognac region of France (such places include Europe, the United States, and Canada). These are the same rules that govern the use of the term champagne.
This designation serves to add to the prestige, exclusivity –and ultimately value – of cognac brands including Courvoisier, Remy Martin and Martell.
TastingAs with many forms of tasting it is important to include as many of the five senses as possible to get a multi-faceted experience of the brandy.
The tasting of brandy includes four of these five senses, namely; sight, touch, smell and, of course, taste. The fifth sense of hearing can be employed through genial conversation with fellow enthusiasts about how marvellous your brandy is!
As with any tasting experience, brandy enjoyment is subject to an individual's personal preference. One can only give guidelines as to what aromas and flavours can be associated with the different brandies to enable the individual to take as much from the experience as one can.
As a general rule, the longer a brandy is aged, the richer, smoother, deeper and more complex the colour, aroma and palate.
TypesBrandy has a traditional quality rating system, although its use is unregulated outside of Cognac and Armagnac.
- A.C.: aged two years in wood.- V.S.: "Very Special" or 3-Star, aged at least three years in wood.
- V.S.O.P.: "Very Superior Old Pale" or 5-Star, aged at least five years in wood. Rodell Napoleon Brandy falls into this category, aged slowly in carefully selected French oak barrels.
- X.O.: "Extra Old", Napoleon or Vieille Reserve, aged at least six years, Napoleon at least four years. Metaxa 7 Star, the Greek Brandy, falls into this category. As it is produced outside of Cognac and Armagnac, ‘X.O’ isn’t denoted on the label, however the ‘7 stars’ are representative of each year of ageing.
- Vintage: Stored in the cask until the time it is bottled with the label showing the vintage date.
- Hors d'Age: These are too old to determine the age, although ten years plus is typical, and are usually of great quality.