Distilled grapes - a simple guide to brandy in Europe

What a mire many people get into over this lovely 'digestif' when actually, it is so simple. Well to me anyway but then I have been dealing with it for over 45 years now so I guess it ought to be. In its simplest terms 'brandy' is "the fermented, then distilled juice of the grape", it is as easy as that. However confusion seems to arise from the different qualities and style that are made and offered in many countries. Here I try to simplify it

According to E U rules 'brandy' is a ‘spirit distilled from wine’ - which itself comes from grapes. This is then aged for a time in oak barrels. If the spirit is made from the pressed grapes known as Pomace, then it is known as ‘Marc’ in France or Grappa in Italy, is often a little lower in alcohol when distilled and usually does not have time in barrel so is often a clear spirit. Non E U countries do not have this restriction.

Distilled grapes - a simple guide to brandy in Europe
So, that is the simple part now we come to France and 'Cognac'. This is a delimited region to the north west of France. Below the Loire Valley and above Bordeaux, in the Charente and Charente-Maritime. The little town of Cognac rose to fame in the 17th Century and many say is better known than even Paris. The region is classified into 'Zones' which loosely, offer a quality level being based on soil quality and they fan out from the town. Add to this the quality classification and the picture is complete - if a little blurred by now [ha ha].

VS or better known 3-Star       Cognac of at least 3 years old
VSOP [very special old pale]    Cognac of at least 5 years old
XO [extra old]                           Cognac of at least 6 years but often up to 20 years old

"Champagne Cognac" refers to the centre of the region within Cognac. It is NOT from
the fizzy drink region "Premier [1er] Crû" refers [in simple terms] to the class of the vineyards.

From here various producers offer differences that include the selection of different age spirits collated from different parts of the whole region and then blended by the Cellar Master.

Armagnac - another region of France with its own classification that is similar to Cognac.

Grappa - 'not age declared' grape spirit from Italy and mostly not aged in barrel.
Often a single grape variety today.

Spanish Brandy - has its own DO [delimited region] and must be from either  Jerez or Penedès in Catalonia.

  •  The style is often dark, rich & very aromatic [dinner in a glass for me!].
  •  The Brandy de Jerez Regulatory Council uses the following classifications:
  •  Solera – one year old.
  •  Solera Reserva – three years old.
  •  Solera Gran Reserva – ten years old.

By the time you read this I shall be back from another sojourn to Australia so watch out for a piece on the Antipodes. Do you have a favourite region you would like me to write about?

By the way, you can also ask me questions (relating to wine please! - ha!ha! or
tell me your own wine stories? Contact me on: andrewh@georgehill.co.uk

Must go, my ‘plane awaits... Andrew