Thursday, June 27, 2013

Brandy de Jerez: Sherried Brandy

If you like sherried Scotch, you should try Spanish Brandy de Jerez.  The Spanish brandy is required to be aged in sherry casks which impart many of the same notes that are found in sherried whiskey. Today I taste some popular Spanish brandies. (Also see my previous review of the Navazos Palazzi Single Olorso Cask)

Gran Duque D'Alba Solera Gran Reserve, 40% ($45)

Purportedly aged for 12 years, the nose on this brandy is pure, sweet dried fruit with the faintest hint of sulfur.  The palate is full of very sweet sherry, dried fruit covered with a teaspoon of sugar, a slight orange rind note comes in late palate which makes it interesting.  There's a hint of oak in the finish.

This stuff is exceedingly sweet, so much so that I'd guess it has added sugar, which is fairly common in brandy, but it's also exceedingly drinkable.  I wish it was higher proof and not quite as sweet, but I also finished it pretty quickly.  At 40%, it just slides down.  It's not complex, but it's fun.

This reminds me of a tasting I did with a former chemist turned distiller.  He was going on about the various element of whiskey and other spirits and their effect on the product when he asked what effect sugar had on a spirit.  Several people threw out guesses having to do with molecular structure and bonding, but his answer was, "It makes stuff taste good."  And so it does.

Cardenal Mendoza Gran Reserva, 40% ($30-$40)

This is another very sweet one.  The nose is sweet sherry.  The palate is very sweet but without too much else.  A slight earthy note comes in later and gives it a bit of a boost into the finish, but overall, it's just a one-note sugar bomb.  If you're looking for something sweet and drinkable, I prefer the Gran Duque D'Alba.

Lepanto Pedro Ximenez, 40% ($45)

The Lepanto brand is owned by Spanish spirits company Gonzalez Byass, which also owns Tio Pepe fino sherry.  Their brandies are made from 100% Palomino grapes.  This expression is aged for 12 years in Tio Pepe casks and then three years is Pedro Ximenez sherry casks.

The nose on this is tangy, dry sherry.  The palate, though, is quite sweet with lots of bold fruit notes, including raisins and stone fruit.  The finish has that same, slightly tangy fruit note.

This is a bit of a one-note, but it's a good note, another very drinkable sherry.

Lepanto Oloroso Viejo, 40% ($60)

Made by Spanish spirits company Gonzalez Byass, this is a 15 year old aged for ten years in in Tio Pepe fino sherry casks and five years in Oloroso casks. It is made from 100% Palomino grapes.

The nose on this is a very dry sherry.  The palate follows suit with a very dry sherry note with some oak and earthy flavors coming in at the end and into the finish with a very slight bitterness.  It's a bit more interesting than the first two, though not quite as drinkable.

Well, this was a good contrast in sweet and dry Brandies de Jerez.  This is definitely a spirit I'm going to be trying more of.  The earthiness of brandy aged in sherry seems to be a winning combination.


Florin said...

I've only had the Cardenal Mendoza of the lot, and I found it like you, a "one-note sugar bomb", with some stewed prunes thrown in. Tons of sugar added, just like some rums I know and avoid. But where did you get the $120 price? It's still under $30 at HiTime, if we are talking about the same thing - Cardenal Mendoza Classico Solera Gran Reserva.

sku said...

Thanks for the correction Florin. I have no idea where that price came from. I probably transposed two prices or something.

Anonymous said...

Brandy de Jerez! Great reviews, Sku. I've not had it in years, but have fond memories of it. Cardenal Mendoza Carta Real was alternatingly great or strange stuff... depending on the bottle. It's also a solera product, like most Brandy de Jerez, but it varied greatly in my experience. I'm guessing because a variety of ex-sherry barrels are used in production? Each bottle was sequentially numbered at the base, on the back. Bottle #21409 (Carta Real) was a heavily aromatic sticky-sweet, super drinkable, PX-like sherry bomb. Great stuff. While bottle #6991 smelled like wet pine dimensional lumber, with loads of rugged Rioja-like spice and tannin, which I did not care for much. The price of Carta Real has rose dramatically in recent years (could be had for $50 on sale in 2008) so I've not bothered with it since 2009. Shaw Ross also used to import teardrop decanters of Non Plus Ultra. Which oddly shipped in Cardenal Mendoza de Lujo boxes. Weird. It was even more expensive than Carta Real (probably because of maturity and the crazy decanter) and less overtly sweet or oaky with more noticeable Oloroso influence. Much more restrained and balanced sweetness and oak. I only had one bottle of the Cardenal Mendoza de Lujo box/Non Plus Ultra bottle combo--which is apparently one more than anyone else in North America--and it definitely seemed more supple and balanced than Carta Real. It used to be available through online merchants in New Jersey for approx $100, but I've not seen it for sale in years.

This clearly out-of-date Shaw-Ross PDF Cardenal Mendoza sell sheet, which features a Feb. 2007 cover photo of cigar aficionado, has a photo of the apparently long-gone U.S. version of the Non Plus Ultra I mentioned.

fussychicken said...

HILARIOUS timing on this. In Spain for my honeymoon, and of course we headed down to Jerez to drink some sherry and check out the bodegas. We just left yesterday, but not before taking a tour of the Gonzalez Byass bodegas which included seeing their still. It is a classic French cognac style still which looked very nice.

Imagine my surprise to see this post since I have just purchased a bottle of the Lepanto Oloroso Viejo. The one I got is only 36% abv, so maybe not as good? Who knows, maybe we can crack and it try it again!

Unknown said...

I concur with many of the poster's thoughts on these Spanish brandies.

1. the sugarrrrrrr : I talked to a guy working for Williams and Humbert who insist they don't add sugar, but it certainly taste that way. Then again, if you tasted some of the sweeter sherries and consider that they're making it with those casks then maybe they really didn't add anything.

The sweetness has it's pros and cons, if you don't like overly sweet stuff it's obviously a con, but it does make it very easy to drink (which can be a con too since you get drunk quite easily. :P)

2.The stability from bottle to bottle is dubious : some bottles of even basic versions are EXCEPTIONALLY great, some.. not so much. I've had Cardenal Mendoza bottles that gave off such a complex and awesome nose that remind me of a positive mix of grappa and cognac, something I probably never really experienced outside of outlandishly expensive cognacs extras. however , it's like one in every 5 to 10 bottle that have that sort of characteristics.

So yeah, it's like a box of chocolate, you don't know what your getting, sometimes it really exceed expectation, other times... well it's no that expensive ;)

Outlandish, inconsistent, warm, and strong character, it does really reflect well the Spanish character. Where as Cognac tend to remind you of lush forest and farmlands, Brandy de Jerez reminds you of the hot open plains