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November 12, Brandy tasting (first of four articles)

Updated: Dec 14, 2021

The Brandy Tasting on November 12th was a huge success! There were approximately 70 attendees who learned a lot about four different brandies from different countries.

Sip and Savor November 12, 2021


Fundador Solera Reserva Brandy (Sp)

Truffle Cheese and Fig Jam on Toast Point

Château de Laubade Armagnac (Fr)

Spoon of Foie Gras Mousse

Peach Street Pear Brandy (US)

Smoked Duck and Boursin Tartlet with Chives

Knight Gabriello Grappa di Chianti (It)

Chocolate Covered Bacon with Nuts

Creamy Veal and Mushroom Stew with French Bread

What exactly is Brandy?

We humans love our alcohol. We have been making it for longer than recorded history, with whatever materials we had. Basically, when yeast converts sugar or starch to alcohol we get either wine, beer, or mead, depending on what the base material was. If you are using grain, it becomes beer (or sake, which is technically beer), wine comes from fruit (mainly grapes), and mead comes from honey. While these beverages were well enjoyed, at some point people discovered ways to remove water from the resulting beverage to make it stronger, enhance the flavor and most importantly preserve it longer. From grain-based beer we get whiskey (which includes vodka), and from fruit based beverages we get Brandy.

So let's start with the first tasting...

Fundador Solera Reserva Brandy (Sp)

Truffle Cheese and Fig Jam on Toast Point

So the first Brandy is from the Jerez region of Spain. Known for its famed tradition of fine sherry, not many Americans recognize Spain as the home of impressive brandy as well. Fundador is one of the oldest continually operating Brandy distilleries in the world, dating back to at least 1874 as a distillery and to at least 1730 as a vineyard and producer of fine Sherries. Fundador (founder) uses a Solera system of aging for their brandies. Solera aging is a system developed by the Spanish and Portuguese and is used in the production of Sherry and Port. A solera is a collection of barrels ordered by the age of the spirit inside from oldest to youngest. No barrels ever are emptied in a solera, when stock is removed from the oldest barrel, it is backfilled from the second oldest barrel, which will then be backfilled from the third oldest barrel and so forth. New stock is always added to the youngest barrel.

This system works in two ways: first, it allows spirits of different ages to mature together and younger stock takes on a lot of flavors from the older stock. Second, because the barrels are never completely emptied, nothing is ever truly lost and the average age of the solera is always increasing. Fundador uses Sherry barrels for their aging and the resulting aroma is of toasted almonds, raisins, and vanilla. The flavor was surprisingly robust, and the Sherry background was unmistakable.

When I first tasted this the warm flavors and aromas reminded me of Amontillado and so of course I thought of figs and cheese. The cheese we used was called Moliterno, a sheep's milk cheese from Sardinia which is richly veined with chopped white truffles.

The flavor is nutty but the aroma of the truffles really overtakes the cheese. This stuff is not for the faint of heart, but of course to match the complex bite of Spanish Brandy we need something equally bold. A sweet jam of dried figs and toasted French bread brushed with extra virgin olive oil made this a nice first course.

After tasting the food, we sipped the Brandy again, many attendees were struck by how much the food calmed the heat of the alcohol and let the background flavor of the brandy come through. The attendees all seemed to agree that this was an interesting combination, and as always with our Sip and Savor events they were very polite and reserved in the beginning. And, as always I reminded them that the more questions they ask, the more interesting this becomes. Of course I couldn't help making a point about the historical match of brandy and sherry, as brandy was used to preserve wines from the port of Jerez. In the 1300's as relations with France began to sour, Spanish ports gave English merchants preferential treatment to profit off England's thirst for wine. Spanish wine wasn't well suited to traveling, but the addition of brandy not only kept it stable but gave it a higher proof. This worked well until the sixteenth century...

But I was beginning to lose the crowd.

Next: Armagnac with Foie Gras...

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