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Brandy: The Basics

Brandy is a potable spirit, distilled from a fermented mash of grapes or other fruit. Most brandy is distilled from wine. White wine, made from white grapes, is used most often. Wine that has recently finished its fermentation process makes the best brandy. An aged wine, even if it is of superior quality, won’t make a good brandy.

Brandies are produced wherever grapes are grown.

Different Types of Brandy

Cognac comes from France, and Metaxa is from Greece. Brandies produced in California must be made from California grapes, and they have to meet rigid standards set by the distillers. California brandies account for over 75 percent of the brandy sales in the United States.

In many parts of Europe, brandy is made from fruit. Kirsch, from Germany, is cherry flavored, and Mirabelle, from France, has a plum flavor. To the brandy base, which contains the alcohol, they add an extract or concentrate of the fruit and sweetening syrups. The labels on fruit brandies must indicate the kind of fruit used, such as apricot brandy, cherry brandy, peach brandy, or blackberry brandy, etc. Almost all brandies are aged in oak barrels from three to eight years.

Cognac: The Most Famous of all Brandies

Cognac should be mentioned more specifically because it is the most famous of all the brandies. It is produced in the Cognac region of France, which is an area north of Bordeaux, bordering the Atlantic Ocean, with the city of Cognac near its center. The region is divided into seven districts, ranking in order of the quality of the cognac made in each district. In order, they are: Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies, Fins, Bois, Bons Bois, Bois Ordinaries, and Bois a Terrior.

It is important to understand that all cognac is brandy, but not all brandy is cognac.

A brandy may only be called cognac if it is distilled from wine made of the grapes that grow within the legal limits of Charente and Charente Inferieure Departments of France. Brandies distilled from wines other than these are not legally entitled to the name cognac, even though they may be shipped from the city of Cognac.