food humorfood humor Eat, Drink and Really Be Merry
Brandy: How Did It Come To Be?
by Marjorie Dorfman
page 2

brandy VSOPBrandy has a unique system of classification, which was first introduced by Hennessey in order to offer a simple method for consumers to differentiate between cognacs. "A.C." signifies that it is two years old and aged in wood casks, "V.S." is "very special" and aged three years in wooden casks, "V.S.O.P" signifies "very superior old pale" aged for a minimum of five years, "X.O." means "extra old", which is aged for a minimum of six years. This label includes Napoleon (not the man, the drink) and Vielle reserve. Napoleon is aged at least four years, and for a brandy to be labeled vintage it must go directly from the aging cask to the bottle without passing go or collecting two hundred dollars, and with the label showing the date. Finally, the "hors d’age" classification means it’s too old to determine the age. (I feel that way sometimes. Don’t you?)

Virtually all cognacs are a blend of brandies from different vintages, and frequently, different growing zones. As in Champagne, the production of local vineyards is sold to Cognac houses, each of which stores and ages cognac from different suppliers and then employs master blenders to draw from these disparate brandies to create continuity in the house blends. Because there are no age statements on cognacs, the industry has adopted some generally accepted terms to differentiate them. These terms have no legal status, and each shipper uses them according to his own criteria. For example, X.O. (Extra Old) means a minimum of six years aging for the youngest cognac, with the average age running twenty years or older. All Cognac houses maintain inventories of old vintage cognacs and the oldest of them are removed from their casks and stored in large jugs to prevent loss from evaporation and to limit astringency. Luxury cognacs are the very tops of the line of each individual Cognac house.

vinyard Armagnac is the oldest type of brandy in France, dating back to the early 15th century. Its primary region is located in the heart of the ancient province of Gascony in the southwestern corner of France. As in Cognac, there are growing zones: Bos Armagnac, Haut Armagnac and Tenarze. The Ugli Blanc, Folle Blanc and Columbard (the same grapes used for cognac) are also utilized in producing Armagnac, but the distillation process is different and the resulting brandy has a rustic character and aroma that requires additional cask aging to mellow it out. The best armagnac are aged in casks made from the local Monlezan oak. In recent years, Limousin and Troncais oak have been used as suitable Monlezan oak becomes harder to find. (I myself have absolutely no idea where any of them are.)

Most Armagnacs are blends, but unlike Cognac, single vintages and bottlings can be found. Classifications are the same as those of Cognac (V.S., V.S.O.P., X.O.) Blended armagnacs often have a higher percentage of older vintages in their mix than comparable cognacs, making them a better value for the discerning buyer.

brandy and wine Brandies are produced throughout Europe. Those from Spain come from two basic regions. Brandy de Jerez is made by the Sherry houses centered in and around the city of Jerez de la Frontiera in southwestern Spain. Its product is lush, slightly sweet and fruity. Penedes Brandy comes from Catalonia near Barcelona. Italian brandies have no specific producing regions. Their brandies tend to be on the light and delicate side with a touch of residual sweetness. German brandy (weinbrand) is made from imported wine rather than from the more local varieties. The best German brandies come from the Black Forest region. They are smooth, somewhat lighter than Cognac and finished with a touch of sweetness. Greece produces pot-distilled brandies, many of which, such as the well-known Metaxa, are flavored with Muscat wine, anise or other spices. Brandy production in Israel dates back to 1880 when the French Jewish philanthropist, Baron Edmond de Rothschild, established what has become the modern Israeli wine industry along French lines. Latin America, South Africa and many other far away places too numerous to mention all have their own brandies. The list is hefty and in the words of Sonny and Cher, the beat goes on.

brandy and a book All in all, brandy is one of the great pleasures in life, to be savored, enjoyed and remembered. Whatever your preference, remember that only you can prevent forest fires and that the drink is best imbibed when one has no driving to do or lectures to give or attend. In front of an open fire after dinner with some lovely rich chocolate may not get you to Weight Watchers, but it will certainly get you into heaven.

Happy Brandy to all and to all a good Brandy!

Check these reviews by Marjorie of interesting kitchen gadgets:

For those times when you don’t feel bad enough to drink the whole bottle.
Vacuum Wine Bottle Stopper

Get a Grip on Reality and Citrus!
Good Grip Lemon Zester

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