The word ‘brandy’ comes from the Dutch ‘brandewijn’ which translates literally as ‘burnt wine’. During the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries the wine makers of the area produced brandy for local consumption. Trading throughout the Mediterranean suffered badly upon the fall of Constantinople to the Turks. The English lost Bordeaux, and with it, their main source of wine. Exports from Jerez to Northern Europe shot up and Francis Drake’s famous attack on Cádiz in 1587, and the booty of 2,900 bottles of wine, which were subsequently sold in English taverns, proved to be an excellent promotion for Jerez wines. People enjoyed the wines and exports from Jerez further increased.
Brandy is a spirit with an alcohol content between 36 and 45 percent. Jerez labelled brandy is unique. The ‘criaderas y solera’ system of decanting wines from one barrel to another and the macroclimate of the Jerez, El Puerto and Sanlúcar de Barrameda region gives rise to a very special spirit. Furthermore, Jerez brandy is produced in American oak barrels that have previously held other wines typical of the region for at least 3 years. The porous oak absorbs hints and flavours from such as Fino, Amontillado, Oloroso, Palo Cortado, Pedro Ximénez, etc, which imparts wonderful tones to the spirit. Brandy aged in Fino barrels, for example, has vastly different tones and nuances to that aged with Pedro Ximénez barrels.
Distilling approximately 3 litres of wine will produce about 1 litre of brandy. Jerez brandy is only distilled from the finest of Jerez wines. Airen and Palomino are the most commonly used grapes.
In the ‘criadera and solera’ system the brandy is first aged and then decanted from oak barrels stacked on the higher level to those on a lower level. Taking the wine from the barrel is known ‘saca’ and the placing it in the older barrels is known as ‘rocio’. Stacks three barrels high are usually used – the top are the ”criaderas’ and those on floor of the Bodega are the ‘solera’. It is from the ‘solera’ that the aged brandy is bottled. In the process the older wines impart tones to the younger wines and the young wines impart robustness and vigour to the older. The ‘criaderas and soleras’ method of aging wines has been used in the Jerez area for hundreds of years.
The aging process is fundamental to the production of an excellent brandy. Jerez trademark Brandy is found in three types:
- Brandy de Jerez Solera. The youngest and most fruity brandy. Aged for at least 6 months.
- Brandy de Jerez Solera Reserva. A mature brandy, barrel aged for a minimum of 1 year.
- Brandy de Jerez Solera Gran Reserva. The most aged brandy. To qualify as ‘Gran Reserva’, brandy has to be matured for a minimum of 3 years. But is in fact matured for much longer.
Protected Geographical Location “Brandy de Jerez”
The trademark “Brandy de Jerez” has benefitted from being a ‘Protected Geographical Location’ since 1989. This regulatory board was the first set up in Spain for a spirit. It comprises of representatives from all the bodegas and is charged with ensuring the superior quality of Brandy de Jerez. The board also both represents and protects the trademark name all over the world.
Enjoying Brandy de Jerez
Brandy de Jerez has a long history. Over the years it has been enjoyed in different ways but traditionally in ‘balloon glasses’. This is to be held in the palm of the hand, keeping the brandy at a relatively high temperature (max. 15º) which releases it’s wonderful aromas. This said, Brandy de Jerez is also excellent when served very cold, with solid ice cubes that dissolve slowly, prolonging the pleasure. Nevertheless, temperature is basically a matter of taste.
Brandy de Jerez is a great option for fans of cocktails. There is obviously a huge range of potential combinations but the simplest are such as combining Brandy de Jerez with Cola-Cola, fruit juice and other soft drinks.
One of the best known ways to take Brandy de Jerez is known as ‘carajillo’. This is Brandy de Jerez in black coffee and is delicious hot, cold or iced.
Brandy de Jerez also has a niche in the gastronomy of the province. It’s aroma and flavour is different to other sherries. Try a glass of Brandy de Jerez with cheese or chocolate. It also brings a special touch to dishes and desserts.