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|Consejo Regulador de las Denominaciones de Origen "Jerez-Xérès-Sherry" - "Manzanilla-Sanlúcar de Barrameda" - "Vinagre de Jerez"|
In everyday terms they are produced by the distillation of a particular raw material of agricultural origin (grapes/wine, barley, molasses, beetroot etc.) and in certain cases aged in wooden barrels for a certain period.
Brandy is a category of spirit drink which unlike others (like whisky, rum, gin, vodka, tequila etc…) is the only one made from grapes and the distillation of wine and then aged in oak barrels, hence its nobility.
Brandy de Jerez is the Brandy made exclusively in the Jerez area of Spain (in the municipalities of Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa María and Sanlúcar de Barrameda).
The techniques of wine distillation for the production of alcohol were left to us by the Arabs who established themselves in the Jerez area in 711 AD until the re-conquest by Alfonso X “El Sabio” (The Wise) in 1264. In the Council Minutes there are references to the importance of the “tax on spirit” dating from 1580.
Since the XVI century aged wine spirit has been drunk by wine producers and their friends and families. The Brandy began to be sold in significant quantities in the mid XIX century.
Primarily it the AIREN grape and also the PALOMINO (the one used for production of Sherry) is also used but in very small quantities. The AIREN grape produces low yields of fresh, fruity white wines which are low in acidity and high in alcohol (11-13ᴼ) perfect for distilling into potable alcohol.
The approximate proportion is three litres of wine (4kg grapes) to make one litre of Brandy. The best of the wine is extracted and two litres are discarded.
It is really a very simple process which involves heating the substance you want to distil (in our case, wine) in a suitable container and condensing the vapour by cooling it.
Brandy de Jerez uses two types of still, both made from copper:
The human factor plays an important role in obtaining the best spirit. The nose, the rhythm of the distillation and experience combine to make it a true art.
Brandy de Jerez, like all brandies, must be aged in oak barrels. In Jerez these barrels must have previously been seasoned with Sherry. Ageing allows the natural development of a series of reactions which give the spirit new organoleptic qualities in the form of colour, aroma and flavour which can only be achieved this way. Prolonged ageing gives the spirits much more smoothness on the palate.
In Jerez American oak barrels with a capacity of 500 litres, known as “butts”, are generally used. These butts must always have been seasoned beforehand with Sherry, that is to say they must have contained Sherry of one kind or another for a minimum period of three years. This differentiates Brandy de Jerez from all other brandies in Spain or abroad which sometimes use new barrels.
This is a fundamental aspect of Brandy de Jerez. Seasoned barrels confer a special personality to the Brandy which can be seen in its organoleptic qualities.
The characteristics of each Brandy de Jerez will vary according to the type of Sherry the butt previously contained. It could have contained Finos or Manzanillas (straw coloured and absolutely dry), Amontillado (darker and dry), dry or sweet Olorosos (darker yet in colour) or wine like Pedro Ximénez (very dark and sweet). In this way the Brandy will acquire colour, aroma and flavour from the wines the butts previously contained.
In the first place it achieves a perfect homogenisation during the ageing process and in the final result.
In the second place the regular movement of the spirit through the criaderas allows a better aeration and oxidation of the Brandy giving it a better maturation.
In the third place it is important to point out that this is a continual process in which Brandies of different ages are blended together and the small amount taken from the solera for bottling will always contain a proportion of very old Brandies, up to some 60 years. In fact there are soleras which date back to the mid XIX century.
Finally the solera system confers accentuated organoleptic evolution making the spirit more complex and interesting.
It could be aged at drinking strength throughout the process or at later stages, but it is generally aged at between 50-60ᴼ which permits better extraction of character from the wood.
Prolonged ageing will see a reduction in strength owing mainly to the high degree of evaporation in Jerez due to the hot climate – some 7% per year. This evaporation is known as the “Angels’ Share”.
Only very slightly. This is due to esterification (or polymerisation) reactions. It is not really possible therefore for a Brandy of a particular category to go to a higher category simply by further ageing. Brandies are made for a specific category from the start. This is done by selecting and distilling the best wines for the superior categories, and according to the proportions of the different spirits in the blend, the Brandy will be classified into the following categories:
Not necessarily. The important thing is the balance and harmony of all the constituent parts and the elegance of the final product. Every producer makes their Brandies according to a particular desired type. To this end they will select the most suitable wines, distillation, spirits and barrels and establish a solera system and the frequency of the running of its scales. Bottling will be carried out at the optimum moment of maturity decided by the company’s oenologist or master distiller.
It has always been rather a question of personal appreciation. Each brand in its own category will have its own distinct style and characteristics, however generally speaking we can appreciate the following stylistic elements:
Solera: The palest in colour, yellow to amber with a delicate aroma in which one can still make out hints of spirit mixed with light saline notes if it was aged in Fino butts, or touches of vanilla and toasted caramel if it was aged in Oloroso butts. On the palate it is drier, there might be gentle tannic notes from the wood and it will have less body than older Brandies. It will be a complex drink but lighter at the same time due to its youth.
Solera Reserva: Being older the Brandy will have correspondingly darker tones and less gold than the Solera. On the nose one can see the early indications of ketone notes, the fruit of longer ageing: slightly sweeter with hints of roast coffee. On the palate it will be a little fuller and sweeter with a less alcoholic sensation as all the components are further integrated.
Solera Gran Reserva: With its mahogany and iodine tones one can visually detect a greater age and concentration of components. On the nose one can see this concentration even more with notes of enormous complexity. If the solera had previously held Pedro Ximénez there will be a sweeter sensation with notes of carob, a pastry oven and chocolate. If the butts are old but still in good condition, there will be certain aromas like old polished furniture. On the palate it will be sweeter and smoother yet with some oak tannins intermixed with the sweetness of oxidative ageing, be it in Fino butts, Oloroso butts (more likely) or even more so if aged in PX butts.
It neither gains nor loses in bottle until it is opened. From this moment on things start to happen so if we store the bottle half full and at a temperature which is too high the Angels will take their share and there will be a greater concentration of sugars in the brandy and after six to eight months it will lose some of its vivacity and balance.
It is not essential from the quality point of view. It is simply a question of the aesthetics of the magnificent colour derived from ageing with its tones of iodine, amber, mahogany and gold glinting through the crystal.
The ideal glass is the “balloon” made of fine transparent glass and with sufficient room to be able to put the fingers between the bowl and the foot thus warming the glass and releasing the aromas. Another glass which can be used is the “catavinos” glass, or in this case the “catabrandy” used in the bodegas. This glass, designed for the aficionado with sybaritic leanings, should be filled to one third of the capacity of the bulb or at least with a small amount. Being of a smaller size it allows for less agitation of the Brandy and thus a reduced evaporation and oxidation of it. This way we can smell less alcohol and more of the complexity of the volatile substances in the spirit as well as the aromas imparted by the solera.
No. The balloon glass adapts itself to the warmth of the hand giving the perfect drinking temperature, between 17-18ᴼ, which allows one to take small sips and appreciate the Brandy in all its splendour.