Brandy-A Holiday Classic

                            Brandy in snifter
    There are so many wines to enjoy during the holidays.  Gorgeous bottle, after gorgeous bottle of red and sparkling present themselves and we often forget about some historical wine treats that have been around for generations:  distilled and fortified wines. 
    If you lack some real-life experience in this area, brandy may be your perfect foray into this genre.
    The marriage of wine and alcohol has been blessed for centuries.  Originally produced out of necessity to protect wines from spoilage during long travels, these high octane beverages are either produced by adding alcohol during winemaking or by taking a finished wine and distilling it into a spirit.  In the former, alcohol fortification occurs either before the end of fermentation (e.g., port), or after (e.g., sherry).  In the case of port, because the fortification arrests the fermentation process, residual sugar is left in the wine, thus resulting in a sweeter beverage.  Other fortified wines like Marsala and Madiera employ both methods.  All of these "fortified" styles use their own grapes, blending and aging techniques, thus resulting in the flavor, color and texture differences found amongst these wines.
    Brandy, on the other hand, is made like liquor.  Fermented grape juice is put into a still and "cooked" to concentrate the alcohol and flavors, and brandy packs a punch, ranging from 70-120 proof.  It is made from grape varieties typically low in alcohol and high in acidity.  The french brandies, Cognac and Armagnac usually use Ugni Blanc, Columbard and Folle Blanche.  Spanish brandy, usually from Jerez and Penedes, uses Ugni Blanc and Airen, while California brandy will often use Thompson Seedless.  Other styles of brandy include Calvados and Grappa.
    Typically aged in oak, many brandies have hints of butterscotch or carmel, vanilla, wood, dried fruit and nuts. Most brandies from around the world have a rating system as follows, but don't look for these monikers on CA Brandy, you won't see them:
  1. ~~~~~V.S./V.S.P./Three Star:  (V.S., very superior; V.S.P., very superior pale) A minimum of two years  aging in a cask, although the industry average is four to five years. 
  2. ~~~~~V.S.O.P.: (very superior old pale) A minimum of four years cask aging for  the youngest Cognac in the blend, with the industry average being between  10 and 15 years.
  3. ~~~~~X.O./Luxury:  (X.O., extra old) A minimum of six years aging for the youngest cognac in  the blend, with the average age running 20 years or older (www.tastings.com).

I've got a bottle of Korbel right now…check it out for about $10.

 It is perfect for festive recipes like the one below: 
Korbel brandy

    The Brandy Alexander
    (Harvard Bartending Book)
    1 oz good brandy
    1 oz dark creme de cacao
    1 oz cream
    Top with a dusting of nutmeg
    Serve in a rocks or cocktail glass

This season, enjoy brandy as an addition to your eggnog, your pan sauces or your desserts.  Not only is it the star of the Brandy Alexander above, you find it in Side Cars and as a bourbon substitute in Old Fashioned and Manhattan cocktails. If you are drinking fine brandy (V.S. and above) drink it neat, in a snifter, and slightly warmed by your hand.

Happy Holidays! xoSB

 

 

 

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