Brandy is a spirit that is distilled from grapes and then aged in a oak barrel. Cognac is a brandy aged in a oak barrel that is very well known and prestigious. The western part of France, which is on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean is the region where cognac comes from. The wine is a fermentation of whole grape skins, in which the seeds are included, which then goes into an unusual pot still, where it is then double distilled, before being transferred to a oak barrel for aging. When you see the labels on Cognac bottles, you will find abbreviations that indicate the brandy quality. These indicate the time they have spent in a oak barrel.
Initially, the distilled cognac is aged for a year in an oak barrel that is new, but subsequently the spirit is transferred to an oak barrel that has been used earlier, and allowed to age further. A Cognac that carries the label VS indicates that it is “very special”. This cognac will have gone through an aging in a oak barrel for at least two years. When a cognac has been aged for at last four years in a oak barrel, it is referred to as VSOP. When the aging period in a oak barrel is over six years, it is called a XO cognac. The double distillation of cognac gives the spirit an alcohol percentage of seventy. When you are serving cognacs that are labelled VSOP and above ensure that they are at room temperature and served neat.
Armagnac is another French brandy, which is quite well known. It comes from southwest France where Armagnac is. This brandy is distilled only once and then aged in a oak barrel, unlike Cognac which goes through a double distillation process and oak barrel aging process. Armagnac brandy follows the same system of labeling as Cognac, which indicates the tie of aging in a oak barrel. Many other countries in Europe also produce brandies. The largest producer, after France is Spain. The southern area of Spain, called Jerez is where brandy is produced, and the same houses that produce sherry also distill brandy. California is the area in the United States that does produce some brandies.
Port. What is it?
Port is not a distilled spirit and is considered wine that is fortified. Instead of distilling whole grapes, the wine is fortified by the addition of alcohol. The northern Portugal Duoro valley is where most traditional port comes from. The name Port is given to fortified wines from this region, even though other places in Europe have also gone in for making fortified wine. Port is said to have its origins as a drink made during a 17th century Anglo-French war.
Because of the war, the government in England taxed all French goods. Wine merchants in England started getting wine from Portugal. When these wines were being transported to England, sailors started mixing it with brandy and this is how port came into being. Port is a sweet wine, because the fermentation process gets interrupted by the brandy, that leads to some of the grape sugar remaining unfermented. A port wine glass is smaller than a traditional wine glass, and port needs to be served at room temperature.
Sherry.What is it?
True sherry comes from Spain and it is also a fortified wine. In the making of sherry, white wine goes through a process of fermentation which makes the wine dry. After this, alcohol is added for fortification and sherry aged in a oak barrel, before it is bottled. When you bottle a sherry after aging it is very dry, and the addition of raisin grape juice can make it sweet. You can serve sherry at room temperature or after chilling. Serve sherry in a sherry glass, pairing it with lighter meals if so desired.