- There are many different brandies produced throughout the world; however, there is only one "cognac". This noble spirit originates from white wine grapes called Ugni Blanc. Produced only in the Cognac region of France, the wine is distilled twice in traditional Charentais copper pot stills. The finished product is clear and adopts its beautiful amber color after many years in French oak barrels. Under strict French law, cognac production methods and growing areas are clearly defined. The districts in order of quality are: Grand Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies, Fin Bois, Bois Ordinaires. The combination of the two finest districts in Cognac produce the classification of "fine champagne"; aging in barrels establishes the cognac's designation. The single firm which produces exclusively fine champagne cognac is the noble house of Remy Martin. It is available in these distinct styles:
- REMY MARTIN V.S. (Very Superior) - Aged three times longer than required by French law, this fine champagne cognac derives its character from superior grapes and aging in limousin oak barrels.
- REMY MARTIN V.S.O.P. (Very Special Old Pale) -The highest quality VSOP in the world. Its superb bouquet, color, and taste reflect the blending of Grand and Petite Champagne grapes, the two finest growths, aged 8 to 15 years.
- REMY MARTIN Napolean - Nobler, older cognacs make this truly a connoisseur's delight. Stronger, more developed, from fthe finest grapes, aged 20-25 years.
- REMY MARTIN X.O. - A tribute to the art of cognac making; recognized by experts as one of the most complex and subtle cognacs in the world aged over 30 years.
- REMY MARTIN Extra Perfection - The newest member of the Remy family. Perfection is a complex blend of Grand and Petite Champagne brandies aged from 35 to 50 years.
- REMY MARTIN Louis XIII - Made only with the highest quality grapes from the Cognac region. Incomparable in its mellowness, bouquet, adn taste. A blending of cognacs aged over 70 years.
- The spirited brandy of southern France produced in the region of Gascony, home of Dumas' "Three Musketeers". Similar yet unique in style from cognac, armagnac has long been recognized as a noble spirit. The armagnac region is divided into three growing zones: Haut-Armagnac to the east, Tenareze in the center, and Bas-Armagnac to the west. Unlike cognac, armagnac undergoes a single distillation. Armagnac is also distilled at a lower temperature than cognac. This gives armagnac a fuller, more earthy aroma and lavor. Following distillation, the armagnac is aged in Limousin or Monlezun oak.
- Sempe is the world's largest seller of premium armagnac. Sempe's vintage dated armagnacs are prized worldwide by connoisseurs of brandy. Summits recommends Sempe V.S.O.P. as a good introduction to armagnac.
- Grappa is the national brandy of Italy. It is distilled from the skins, pips, and stalks of grapes. Sometimes known as pomace brandy, young grappa is very fiery, but it mellows when matured in wood. In the United States the popularity of grappa has led to the distillation of California pomace brandy. The French also produce a pomace brandy that is called Marc. Of the French marcs, those of Burgundy and Champagne are among those that enjoy the greatest reputation among brandy drinkers.
- One of the world's great brandies, Calvados is distilled from apples. Calvados comes from Normandy, northwestern France and, as with cognac and armagnac, geographical area and production is regulated by French law. Calvados is fermented cider that is double distilled and then aged in oak casks.
- In the United States an apple spirit is distilled and is called appeljack. It is interesting to note that applejack is the oldest native distilled spirit in the United States. Laird's is the market leader in this category and it's seven year old version is considered one of the best apple brandies in the world.
- Fruit Brandy
- The most popular brandies in the world are made from wine. However, a great deal of superb brandy is distilled from fruits other tha grapes. These brandies, or "eau de vie" (water of life) can be made from cherries (Kirsch), pears (Poire William), plums (Quetsch, Mirabelle), strawberries (Fraises), and raspberries (Framboise). Fruit eau de vie is usually distilled in pot stills and is colorless, having aged in glass or pottery as opposed to wood. A great majority of fruit brandy is produced in France (Alsace), Germany (Black Forest), and Northern Switzerland (Busel). These brandies are often served in European restaurants and bistros as digestifs or as a refresher between courses of a larger meal. Fruit eau de vie is rapidly becoming a popular choice of drink for Americans.
- Russian Brandy
- Unfortunately, "Glasnost" has not encouraged the production of alcohol in Russia. Consequently, it is rare to see any type of Russian spirit other than vodka on American shelves. However, Ararat, a six year old, oak aged, grape brandy is available in the United States. Ararat has a heavier and spicier flavor than most Western brandies and has a devoted following among ethnic Armenians living in America.
- American Brandy
- The majority of grape brandy distilled in the U.S. comes from the state of California. In fact, the term "California Brandy", like cognac and armagnac, is a controlled appellation applied only to beverages distilled entirely from California grapes and aged at least two years. California brandy is produced from Thompson seedless, Tokay, Colombard, and Folle Blanche grapes that are grown in the San Joachin Valley. Traditionally, California brandies are known as clean distillates and are quite versatile mixers. American brands such as E & J and Coronet often advertise themselves as the one bottle bar. However, in the last ten years, an increasing number of small American brandy companies have produced heavier, pot-still brandies that rival French cognac. Germain-Robin, Jepson, Bonny Doon, and RMS (a Remy Martin subsidiary) are producing superb French oak aged brandies that deserve to be tasted by the cognac connoisseur.
- Italian Brandy
- It comes as no great surprise that Italy produces a great deal of brandy. However, virtually all of the brandy comes from two big commercial concerns - Buton and Stock. The brandy exported to the United States by these firms is a blend of pot-still and patent-still spirits. This results in a brandy that is lighter but somewhat sweeter than those distilled in France.
- German Brandy
- Due to the scarcity of grapes in Germany suitable for the production of brandy, the distillers of Asbach Uralt import wines from France and Italy for use in their spirit. Like cognac, Asbach Uralt is aged in French oak for 4 to 6 years. The result is a soft grape brandy with the flavor characteristics and bouquet of its French counterpart.
- Israeli Brandy
- The state of Israel produces a great deal of grape brandy. As with German brandies, Israeli distillers import wines from a variety of Mediterranean vineyards for use in their spirit. Israeli brandies tend to be heavier and sweetier than the brandies produced in western Europe. All brandies produced by Israel are kosher.
- Mexican Brandy
- Mexico did not produce brandy in large quantities until 1950. However, in the past 35 to 40 years, brandy has become the national drink of Mexico. The majority of Mexican brandy incorporates the Solera System of blending and aging. Mexican brandy such as Presidente is a versatile spirit that can be used in a variety of recipes and concoctions.
- Spanish Brandy
- Many of the sherry producer in Spain also produce brandy. Generally, these firms distill the spirit in continuous stills and then ship it north for aging. Spanish brandy shippers follow the sherry making practice of maturing in Solera, a continuous process of blending younger and older brandies. The barrels of brandy are stacked four or five high, according to age with the youngest brandies at the top and the oldest at the bottom. Brandy for the final bottling is drawn from the casks in the lower tier, but they are never completely emptied. The vacated space is immediately filled with brandies from the barrels in the tier above and these in turn are topped up from the tier above them. The Solera creates a brandy that is woody but yet somewhat sweet.
- In northeastern Spain, Miquel Torres, a leading wine maker in the Penedes region makes a more traditional style of brandy. Torres distills his spirit exclusively in pot-stills. Although he uses the Solera System for aging his eau de vie, the barrels are of French oak instead of old sherry casks.
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