Sherry Brandy  
 

 

 

Brandy de Jerez

Sherry brandy (Brandy de Jerez in Spanish), is not simply the result of the accomplishment of EEC Rulings, but rather has specific characteristics that differentiate it from other brandies produced in the European Union and for this reason it is included in and protected by a geographical indication, as recognised by its Appendix II.

A geographical indication, or, rather, an "Appellation d'Origine" or "Denominación", which is the term used in Spain, is the result of the use of a specific series of traditional practices and systems of production that give the product certain qualities that differentiate it due to its region of origin. This is the case of Brandy de Jerez which has "Appellation" norms that protect it and which the production bodegas registered in it must accomplish.

The characteristics that make Brandy de Jerez different from other products of a similar nature are:

  • The production and ageing region is made up of the municipalities of Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa Maria and Sanlucar de Barrameda
  • The use of apt wine liquors
  • The level of volatile substances is higher than the minimum established in EU Norms
  • The use of casks that previously held wine and with a capacity of less than a thousand litres
  • Ageing by the traditional system of Criaderas and Soleras or Vitages
  • Greater ageing periods than minimums included in EU Norms

 

Main characteristics of Brandy de Jerez 

The Ageing

 This is the process that consists of allowing organoleptic characteristics, until now not present in the liquors, to develop, using adequate recipients. In the case of brandy, and as included in its definition, these recipients must be made of oak.  During the time that they are in the casks, the main changes that take place have to do, firstly, with colour, turning from transparent to a golden tone. But also the smell and the taste change, taking on aromas that are the result of the nature of the casks, as well as notes of vanilla, dried nuts, etc..

The use of apt wine liquors

The Governing Council of the "Appellation d'Origine" Brandy de Jerez recognises three types of liquors according to their alcohol content.

Low-strength liquors (Holandas) between 60 and 70 % vol.

Medium-strength liquors (Aguardientes) between 70 and 86 % vol.

High-strength liquors (Destilados) between 86 and 94.8 % vol.

 Level of volatile substances

 EU Rules demand that the minimum content of volatile substances in brandy be 125 gr/hl of 100 % vol. alcohol, and in the case of Brandy de Jerez, this requisite is always higher.

According to the "Appellation d'Origine" Brandy de Jerez, the minimum contents required for the three recognised types of Brandy de Jerez are:

Brandy de Jerez Solera 200 gr/hl alcohol 100% vol.

Brandy de Jerez Solera Reserva 250 gr/hl alcohol 100% vol.

Brandy de Jerez Solera Gran Reserva 300 gr/hl alcohol 100% vol.

 This necessarily means that there must be greater "remembrances" of the raw material, wine, and, consequently, the use of a higher percentage of medium- and low-strength wine liquors than would normally be necessary to reach only 125.

 All these considerations lead to a growing use of a higher percentage of wine liquors obtained using traditional methods and used for the types of Brandy de Jerez with a longer ageing process.

 Use of wine casks

 One of the most important characteristics in the production Nsystem of Brandy de Jerez is the use of casks that have previously held Sherry, all of which have a capacity of less than 1,000 litres. Casks with a higher capacity are not considered apt for ageing Brandy de Jerez. Normally botas, which is the name given to the casks in the region, are used which have a maximum capacity of between 500 and 600 litres. During the time that the casks contain Sherry, they become impregnated with the wine and absorb some of its substances, which are released into the wine liquors that are being aged in these same casks.

If the casks have contained Fino, or dry sherry, which has a pale gold colour, the brandies will be of a light colour, but if it was Oloroso, or medium-sweet sherry, of a darker colour, the brandies will also take on this dark tone. If the casks have contained cream sherry or Pedro Ximenez, these will give rise to even darker and slightly sweet brandies (abocados).

This characteristic of the production conditions the types of Brandy de Jerez, thus justifying the diversity of tonalities as regards colour, aroma and taste, but we can say that they all have a common characteristic, which we can describe as being ajerezado (sherried).

All these considerations lead to a growing use of a higher percentage of wine liquors obtained using traditional methods and used for the types of Brandy de Jerez with a longer ageing process.

 

Criaderas and Solera system

Solera-criadera sistemThis is the same ageing system used for maturing Sherry wines, that is typical of the region. It consists of a series of casks generally placed one on top of the other and classified horizontally. In this classification, Solera is the group of casks that are in contact with the ground; on them there is another row of casks called 1st Criadera. On this first row is placed the 2nd Criadera and on this, the 3rd Criadera and so on.

For bottling, part of the content of each of the casks in the Solera is extracted. In the system of Criaderas and Soleras the whole content of the casks is never extracted. The result of this extraction, an operation which is called "saca" is all placed together for bottling. The quantities taken out of the casks in the Solera is replaced with an equal quantity of brandy from the casks in the 1st Criadera situated immediately above the Solera, an operation given the name of rocío.

In this way, each of the casks in the 1st Criadera is partially emptied, and the quantity will be replaced with brandy from the 2nd Criadera and so on, until the last criadera will be topped up with younger liquors or brandy from another Solera. The Rules of the "Appellation" allow the system of classification by years to precede the system of Criaderas and Solera. Each time the saca and rocío is carried out, this is called "changing levels".

This operation is carried out periodically, in pre-established periods of time, giving rise to a complex mixture of brandy from different levels of ageing.

 Ageing times

The Governing Council of the "Appellation d'Origine" Brandy de Jerez recognises three types of Brandy de Jerez as regards ageing times.

  • Brandy de Jerez Solera with an average age of over 6 months.
  • Brandy de Jerez Solera Reserva with an average age of over 1 year.
  • Brandy de Jerez Solera Gran Reserva with an average age of over 3 years.

We should point that the age reference for Brandy de Jerez is taken as the average age. The reasons for this terminology has to do with the dynamic ageing system, known as Criaderas and Solera, which give rise to a high complexity in the composition of the brandies, since there are various mixtures among the different ageing levels of each criadera, so that each fraction contributes a different age as regards the final product. In order to control this, the Governing Council has a computerized Ageing Account whereby the sacas and rocíos in each bodega can be followed and in this way, it is estimated that the average age for each type of brandy is:

  • Brandy de Jerez Solera with an average age of over 1 year.
  • Brandy de Jerez Solera Reserva with an average age of over 3 years.
  • Brandy de Jerez Solera Gran Reserva with an average age of over 10 years.

Top-of-the-line Gran Reservas are aged an average of 12 years or more, and are valued for their increased complexity, smoothness and long finish. Despite the strict control of the production process, each company still succeeds in creating its own distinctive product, so that every Solera Gran Reserva varies significantly in color, aroma and taste.

Tasting one of these superb brandies is, indeed, an experience to be enjoyed by all five senses. From the soft pop of the cork and the amber-chestnut color to the wafting scent of roasted nuts, vanilla, dried fruits, and caramel, the sheer luxury of this golden liquid is overwhelming. Cradle the snifter in your palm as it warms to the heat of your hand, then swirl it to release the incense of rich aromas. Then, finally, slowly, savor the taste: the flavors burst upon the tongue, igniting the palate in a gentle fireside warmth that lingers long after the embers of flavor have faded.