Brandy - Fortified Wine

Cognac, Armagnac, and more

In the seafaring days of wine shipments, something had to be done to wine to allow it to survive the long ocean journeys. They did not have refrigeration back then! Brandy was added to allow the wine to last longer, and to be more resistant to temperature changes. Wines altered like this were called "fortified wines" and became hugely popular. In modern times, we still enjoy port, , marsala, madeira and others. What is Brandy, that creates these fine drinks?

Brandy has a very interesting history. In the 17th Century, the wine trade was very important to many shippers. Some shippers began to bring cheap Portuguese wine to Britain, to sell it for a profit. They did not want to 'waste' valuable cargo space with it, though, so they boiled out all of the water before loading it, and on the other end simply added water back in.

At some point, someone tasted the distilled liquid, and decided it tasted even better than the end result wine!

Thus was brandy born. The first brandies were mostly made with the ugni blanc grape - the ones being used in the original wines. Now, however, there are a vast variety of grapes used in brandy, depending on where the brandy comes from.

The most famous brandies are:
* Cognac, from Cognac, France
* Armagnac, from Gascony, France

Brandy is also made in other areas of the world. In addition to grape brandies, many countries are well known for their specific fruit brandy styles.

Brandy wine glass Brandies are typically drunk after a meal, at around 70F. They go well with nut and apple desserts, or on their own. Brandy should be served in a small, thin glass, not the big-fish-bowl style popularized in the old days. That large-bowl style was called a "snifter". The more slender glass helps to minimize the heavy alcohol aroma, so that you can better appreciate the natural flavors found in the brandy.

There is a whole culture invented around brandy and brandy shifters. The image promoted in movies is an elderly man in an ancient English mansion, resting by a large roaring fire, lounging in his leather chair with his favorite dog at his feet. My theory on why these movie types used a large-bowled snifter is that they were proving their manhood by being able to bring such an alcohol-fumed glass style to their face :) It's the same thing with the wide-mouthed Champagne bowls which show up in old movies. They were awful for actually enjoying Champagne, but it created lots of bubbles, quickly, for the movie shot.

You can find out for yourself just what the snifter problem is. Get a Brandy snifter and then get a proper Brandy glass. Serve the same brandy in both of the glasses, side by side. See how different the Brandy tastes in the proper glass! I've done this experiment several times and it always impresses people.

Related to this snifter problem is how you hold the brandy glass. Brandy glasses which should be held by the stem - not the bowl. In movies you often see the elderly English gentlemen holding the large-bowled snifter in the hand, warming the alcohol up. Warming the glass causes the alcohol to evaporate too quickly, drowning out the fruit aromas. So it would make the drink even MORE alcoholey fumed (if that is even possible). Plus it would be warming the brandy up to body temperature, which nobody feels is an ideal temperature for any wine.

Note: This image was from the movie High Anxiety.

Brandy, being high alcohol, can last a long while after being opened. It is not like a regular wine where you should drink it quickly. It is more like a vodka or gin where it can last on the shelf after being opened. That being said, it will taste better if you drink it sooner rather than later. It will never "go bad" and become dangerous to drink, but it will lose its nice flavors over time.

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All content on the WineIntro website is personally written by author and wine enthusiast Lisa Shea. WineIntro explores the delicious variety and beautiful history which makes up our world of wine! Lisa loves supporting local wineries and encouraging people to drink whatever they like. We all have different taste buds, and that makes our world wonderful. Always drink responsibly.