History: it was the Moors at the time of the Reconquista (from 711 to 1492) who brought the art of distillery Spain. Muslims weren't allowed to drink the local wines from the Jerez area because of their religion. They distilled wines to make alcohol which they used as a disinfectant or as a base for medicines, cosmetics and perfume.
From the sixteenth century, a lot of this alcohol was shipped to England, the Netherlands and France. This was carried out in oak barrels. At a God-given moment in time, someone discovered the influence that the barrels had after a while on the distillate - Hello Brandy!
The techniques were improved by English and French wine merchants who established themselves in the area at the start of the 1800s. They worked with local winemakers and this how the first brands of Brandy came into being.
Production process: Brandy is distilled from white wine (just like Grappa, Cognac, Armagnac). In the beginning, the local Palomino was used for this but by the start of the twentieth century, demand was so high that other grapes started to be used too. Nowadays, most of the distillates are made from base wines from the Airén grape, from Castilia-La Mancha or Extramadura. Palomino is usually considered too expensive for making brandy, although there are some producers who still use Palomino in their blends.
You shouldn't expect too much of this base wine. It is made to be distilled, not drunk as it is. It is distilled in a single operation in copper alambiques (alquitaras) to a maximum of 70% ABV for holandas, between 70 and 86% for aguardientes and between 86 and 95% for destilados. It is then aged in oak barrels to become Brandy de Jerez. These do not have to be the typical, older 600 litre botas. It is usually put in new American oak barrels that have previously contained sherry for a few months so that the wood becomes impregnated with flavours and aromas. Oloroso and PX are mostly used for this.
Just like classic sherries, the brandies are aged in a system of soleras and criaderas: when a portion of the oldest brandy is bottled, that cask is topped up with younger brandy and the cask from which the younger brandy is taken is topped up in its turn with even younger brandy still ...
D.O. Regulations The barrels employed for this must have been used previously for ageing sherry for at least three years. Holandas must make up at least 50% of the distillate. Brandy may only be produced in the Sherry Triangle and as previously mentioned, this must take place in a system of soleras en criaderas.
Three classes are distinguished: - Solera, with an average ageing of six months minimum. - Solera Reserva: average ageing of at least one year. - Solera Gran Reserva: average ageing of at least three years.
The better Gran Reservas are actually aged for more than five years.