There’s more to brandy than Cognac and Armagnac. The French do it exceedingly well (they make Calvados, too), but countries outside France have a long and noble history of brandy production. It’s made all over Europe, and across the New World – in South Africa, they’ve been making brandy since the 17th century. (One of the IWSC Gold winners this year is KWV’s exceptional 20-year-old Grape Brandy, which won praise from the judges for its ‘fresh and vivid’ style, as well as its combination of ‘sweet, savoury and aged elements, all in balance’.)
Brandy starts off life as a wine (usually rather bland and characterless), but the magic happens after it’s been distilled and spends years in oak, allowing the flavours from the spirit to relax and mature.
There are marked differences between countries, however. In Spain, the home of two IWSC Golds in this category this year, brandies are aged using the solera system, which involves blending younger, feistier spirit with older, more mellow liquid. Meanwhile, over in Greece, a mix of botanicals are sometimes added, to take the brandy in a more herbal direction.
Spanish brandy made in the Jerez region is less about the fruit and more about richness and spice, perfectly demonstrated in Carlos I 130 Aniversario Solera from Bodegas Osborne, a winning combination of toffee, chocolate, spicy oak and sherry notes. Brandy has much to offer the spirit drinker, and for whisky fans, it makes a pleasant change to switch from grain to grape once in a while. Here are the best brandies from outside France, as sampled in the IWSC 2020 tasting.
Fantastic sherry nose. Syrupy and sweet but it has plenty to offer. Caramel and toffee, plenty of chocolate and a big wood-lead finish. The bitter chocolate balances the sweetness nicely. Spain 45% RRP £240 n/a in UK
Supremo Aged In 15 YO Amontillado Sherry Casks
The richness and the savoury, nutty, aged, notes balance each other perfectly. Expressive if not explosive on the palate. Very entertaining and it creates a big beautiful impression with still some elegance. Spain 40% n/a in UK
A wonderfully enchanting example, with an enticing and distinctly floral display of perfumed rose and aromatic parma-violet. An unctuous, honeyed palate, showcasing a ripe grapey sweetness leads the way to an elegant and refined finish. Utterly charming! Greece 40% RRP £23 enquire at Drinks & Co
KWV 20 YO Grape Brandy
Sweet, savoury and aged elements are in balance. Fresh and vivid for a long-aged example with a great deal of complexity. Perfumed with herbal notes, sweet with savoury elements. South Africa 38% Enquire at Whisky Exchange