The quick guide to BRANDY
Dark spirits share a common ground in the process of ageing, as they are all aged in oak casks. The exception are three categories: Pisco, aguardiente and grappa.
Brandy, a result of the distillation of wine into spirit concentration, covers the broad range of cognac, armagnac and brandies from several other regions such as Armenia, Italy and Greece. The distillation, which was originally designed to allow wine merchants to transport it more conveniently to distant locations, turned out to be a delightful product after storage in wooden casks, changing in flavour with the distillation. The distillate was termed
“eaux-de-vie”, or “water of life”, a term identical to aqua vitae.
Brandy distillation takes place in two stages, the first to remove water and the lees from the base for a high concentration wine, that is then distilled in pot stills. The heart of the distillate, the core, is preserved, while the tail end is recycled and the first head tends to be discarded as it has a strong odour.
Cognacs are one of the most popular categories of brandies around and bear the same name as the French region they come from. There are six main regions that demonstrate the terroir of the land, and three main grape varieties that are used in the production, doubly distilled in copper stills. The ageing of cognac takes place in French Limousin oak casks, and acquires complex flavours in the process. Like whisky, the angels take their share from evaporation, and cognac makers blend from various vineyards to create a maison style by their master blender.
Three main categories of cognac exist, with Very Special ( V.S.) the most basic, with a minimum ageing of two years.
Very Special Old Pale ( V.S.O.P.) has a minimum of double that, while Extra Old (X.O.) needs to be aged at least six years. However, most maisons age their cognacs far more than that.
The six areas determine the style of eaux-de-vie that is produced. Blending creates the structure found in each cognac, and varies from brand to brand. For example, Martell favours the Borderies region, which produces grapes with nuttier and more fruity notes, giving it a lighter and fruitier flavour on the palate, while Hennessyʼs bolder and more powerful attitude suggests prolific use of Grande Champagne eaux-de-vie.
In general, Grande Champagne offers a long finish with a powerful style and floral notes that are found in most older cognacs, and Petite
How To Sample Cognac
Whiskies and cognacs share some similarities in the way they age and therefore how they mature and develop. Cognacs are generally more complex, with up to hundreds of different eaude-vies in the finest blended cognacs. It explains the colouring, which is much darker, and the density of aromas present.