Over the weekend I got into this interesting and humorous conversation on Cognac.
It was inexactly voiced in a colorful way… that Cognac was really a Spanish wine and that the best Cognac came from Spain. Also that every Brandy is not Cognac and Cognac is different than Brandy. That they are not the same. The French Cognac is different than the Spanish Cognac.
Classic brands like Marques D’ Misa, Carlos I, Cardenal Mendoza, Gran Duque d’Alba were some of the names rattled off as Cognacs that were preferred to their French counterparts Napoleon, Hennessy and Remy Martin.
Well let’s set the record straight on Cognac and Brandy…Cognac and Brandy side by side, there is a huge difference in the flavor, that much we know.
Drum Roll Please…
Drum Roll Please…
All Cognacs come from France, like all Champagne comes from France. It’s a distilled liquor made from grapes. All Brandys come from everyplace else
Cognac is simply brandy distilled from wine produced in certain regions of France. Legally, in France, it has to be produced in those regions, and aged for a longer period of time, to be called Cognac. So Cognac is, technically speaking, a type of brandy. That means it’s made by distilling wine, and then aging the resulting spirit (the French call it eau de vie) in wood barrels.
Spanish brandy is properly called Brandy de Jerez and, like the French brandies, can be produced only in a designated region. Brandy de Jerez comes from around the Andalucian city of Jerez, the same place sherry is made.
In fact, the brandy is aged in sherry casks, using the same solera system, the carefully orchestrated process involving successive barrels in which younger brandies are added to older ones as they age. The younger brandy takes on characteristics of the more mature spirit, and the older wine retains a freshness and liveliness.
One of the main differences of Brandy to Cognac is the aging in wood. Where Cognac requires it, Brandy does not. Along these lines some Brandies contain added coloring to simulate the wood aging.
Further, Cognac is governed by strict laws in France… Cognac has long been considered an aristocratic drink and its name is not only well earned but fiercely guarded that is why there is this aura about it.
Brandy is free to be more loose in its methods the world over…We then can consider tradition, production methods, and accountability based on tradition and expectations.
French Law says, a distilled spirit may carry the name Cognac, only if the production methods for the distilled spirit meets the defined regional legal requirements. The restrictions of the ancient law require the wine to be made of 90% Ugni Blanc, FoIt is this wine that eventually is very cautiously distilled into Cognac. The process involves the careful double distillation in copper, and two years of aging in French Oak .
In fact, many Cognac houses will brag about pulling their supply of grapes from very sought-after zones. The terrior of France is unique unto itself along with its appellations.
But remember…This is true for any wine grape producing region and it is an important consideration to take for these respected spirits.
In the case of Jerez… the great vineyard terroirs have been identified for thousands of years:
Vines arrived in the south of Spain in 1100 BC with the Phoenicians, and later Columella spotted the good chalky (albariza) and bad (sandy) terroirs in Jerez. Which is no slouch!
And that’s a long time before the French Grands Crus!!!
The brandy de Jerez; if it ages at least three years, it’s called solera reserva. If it ages 10 years or longer, it’s called solera gran reserva
Most brandy de Jerez is made with the neutral airen grape, which is said to be the most-planted wine grape in the world. Sometimes a little bit of Pedro Ximenez grape is added, lending sweetness and intensity.
The gran reservas have concentrated flavors of raisin and burnt caramel and hints of sherry cask. Some gran reservas even use the Palomino grape that sherry is made from. The result was a brighter, nuttier and more complex brandy.
I’ll go on the limb and say that the Spanish brandies are deep, rich, lush and more immediately likable. They are a fascinating diversion from the legendary French brandies such as Cognac and even the Armagnac of Gascony in Southwest France and the Calvados from the French region of Lower Normandy.
A good answer to explain the flavor of Cognac is hot fruit cake!
Hmmm… and the USA fruitcake is not a very positive description. Yet it’s a very concentrated stewed toasted fruit. Incredible wood flavors. Really powerful!
By the way…Cognac master blenders often use the word “rancio” to describe a flavor present in many of the oldest and most expensive cognac blends. But this word, which shares its roots with nasty the less-than-appetizing “rancid”, so it lacks an exact translation.