Spanish Brandy

by Ainhoa Barrio - 15 December 2013

spanish-brandySpanish Brandy is an alcoholic liquor made from distilled wine or fermented fruit juice and aged in oak barrels. It is considered one of the noblest spirits because it comes from the distillation of wines and not from cereals or molasses.

Brandy de Jerez has a number of peculiarities that make it different from other brandies. As the name suggests, Spanish Brandy is produced in the area surrounding Jerez de la Frontera in the province of Andalucia in southern Spain; and holds a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO).

To make Brandy de Jerez only quality wines are used for distillation. They have to be healthy wines; neat, balanced and fine to be consumed on their own. Once the wine is distilled, it needs to age in American oak barrels, called botas, of around 500 litres each. These oak barrels must have been used previously to contain sherry wines for at least three years. Depending of the sherry wine that the barrels had contained, the resulting Brandy will have different characteristics, like a paler colour if the barrel contained Fino sherry, than if it held Oloroso sherry.

All Brandy de Jerez must have followed the traditional aging system of criaderas y soleras, controlled by the Brandy de Jerez Regulatory Council. This long established system of aging wines in the area of Jerez de la Frontera consists of:

Three rows of oak barrels, the bottom ones called solera, and the second and third rows called criaderas. Periodically, a percentage of each of the bottom barrels is extracted for consumption. The same amount is taken from the second row of barrels to refill the bottom ones. And the same applies to the third row of barrels, which is used to refill the second row. The third row of oak barrels will be then refilled with new distilled wine for aging.

brandy-barrels

This system, where the mature wines 'teach' the young ones, produces a very homogenous mix and results in top quality brandy. These wines are never given a specific aging denomination because they are a mixture of different matured wines. Thus, the older the bodega has used the system of solera y criaderas, the longer the wines have been maturing on the bottom row barrels and the better brandies it will produce. These solera barrels on the bottom row certainly become one of the main assets of the long established bodegas.

There are different types of Spanish Brandy de Jerez, depending on the time that they have been left age in the oak barrels:

  • Brandy de Jerez Solera is the youngest one. It has a fruity taste and has been left to mature for about a year.
  • Brandy de Jerez de Solera Reserva is left to age for about three years.
  • Brandy de Jerez Solera Gran Reserva takes the longest to mature with an average of ten years in the oak barrels.

There are many different brands of Brandy de Jerez, but the best known to the Spaniards is possibly Osborne. With their marketing campaign to promote and advertise one of their new brandies, Veterano, Osborne planted a massive black bull along many roads in Spain to represent their brand. The iconic black bull became so famous that, even when the advertising of alcoholic drinks was forbidden on the roads, the black bull was allowed to stay and can be seen in the Spanish country roads up until today.

osborne-bull

The oldest and most expensive Spanish brandy belongs to the Conde de Garay brand, and it comes from a solera oak barrel that has aged for about 200 years.

As well as an after meal drink, brandy is also used in Spanish cooking, especially in creating desserts with a twist. Figs with a brandy topping, chocolate mousse with brandy or flan are some of the most popular choices. But brandy can also be used to enrich sauces for fish, chicken and even rabbit.

Ainhoa Barrio is a Spanish food, drink and culture writer who lives in Barcelona.

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