In a market where consumers continue to remain infatuated with whisk(e)y, rum, and other spirits bottled with extensive barrel aging and oxidative flavor profiles its unfortunate that Brandy de Jerez largely slips people’s notice. Brandy de Jerez is one of the most regulated spirits in the world; their regulatory council strictly enforces the type of stills used, area of production, solera aging, type of barrels and base wine.
First produced by the Moors, already experts in the field of distillation having mastered basic retorts and pot stills, Brandy de Jerez was created from the already famous local wine: sherry. With sherry being the base wineries took on the majority of production in the following centuries, Sanchez Romate being one of them. While officially founded in 1781 they didn’t commercially produce their brandy until 1887 when it was brought to market under the name “Cardenal Mendoza” (In honor of Pedro González de Mendoza (1423-1495), a historical figure who played a crucial role in the conquest of the Muslim kingdom of Granada).
An example of a rudimentary “alquitara”, a basic pot still originally used for production of Brandy de Jerez as introduced by the Moors in the mid 14th century.
It was the founder’s, Juan Sanchez de la Torre, 4th generation that moved the company’s focus to distilled spirits and while they continue to produce a few wines their concentration on brandy remains to this very day.
By the 20th century very few people still used the traditional copper pot stills that were heated by direct fire in a discontinuous process. Today Romate uses a combination of steam heated pot and column stills to achieve the necessary distillates for aging and eventual blending. The pot stills are used to obtain spirits of low alcoholic content, between 40° and 70°. Holandas is the term used in Jerez to refer to these wine spirits low in alcoholic content, which are of greater quality as they require the distillation of the best of wines and better evoke the raw material from which they are produced. Column distillation, which are more modern and efficient since the wine is introduced continuously, obtain strengths of between 70° and 94.8°.
By law the brandy must be produced exclusively within the municipal boundaries of Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa María and Sanlúcar de Barrameda. It then must be aged in American oak casks with a capacity of 500 liters that previously contained sherry. Finnaly, the traditional aging system of criaderas y soleras is used.
The cellars of Sanchez Romate in Jerez de la Frontera
Of the three classifications of Brandy de Jerez the bottles above are: Brandy de Jerez Solera Gran Reserva. This requires the longest aging, with a minimum average of ten years and a total content of volatile components of 250 mg. per 100 cc. of pure alcohol.
These back vintage bottles are also another 5% higher in ABV then current production. In addition the spirit in the bottle are considerably older then current expression because of their place in the solera system. Aged in former Pedro Jimenez and Oloroso sherry casks its sees an average of 15 to 17 years in barrel.
Sanchez Romate “Cardinal Mendoza” Gran Reserva Brandy de Jerez 45% ABV, 750ml 1982 (left) and Sanchez Romate “Cardinal Mendoza” Gran Reserva Brandy de Jerez 45% ABV, 750ml 1971 (right)
The intensity of the bouquet starts with waves of prunes and raisins. Deeper aromas also arise such as orange rind, peppermint and roasted hazelnuts. It is rich, heavyweight brandy that tastes of dry cocoa, toffee, caramel, bananas foster and tonka bean.