Labels may carry the following terms: VS (Very Superior); VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale); and XO (Extra Old). Brandy is served straight in a brandy snifter, or mixed into a cocktail. It is also used in cooking. Tasters often speak of body, intensity and clarity when evaluating a brandy.Cognac
Cognac is a grape brandy made in the Cognac region of France and has very strong aromas, which are often described in floral or fruit terms. Tasters also talk about impressions of elegance, suppleness, delicacy and power. The region has six districts that are ranked in order of quality from high to low: Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies, Fins Bois, Bons Bois, and Bois Ordinaires.
Three Star (VS) Cognac must spend 2 years aging in wood. Reserve (VSOP) must spend at least 4½ years in wood. Currently Napoleon (XO) is required to be in wood for at least 6½ years but is scheduled to rise to at least 10 years in 2018. Fine Champagne is made only with grapes grown in the Grande or Petite Champagne region of Cognac, at least 50 percent of which must come from Grande Champagne.
Fruit brandies are made by distilling the wine or fermented mash of any fruit other than grapes. They differ from fruit-flavored brandy-liqueurs because they are actually distilled from the fruit of choice, instead of simply having the fruit flavor added to an existing grape brandy.
Eau-de-vie is the French term for an unaged, clear and colorless fruit brandy. These brandies offer the very essence of the fruit from which they are made. Meant to be drunk young, they offer flavors that are typically fresh and light, and are typically enjoyed as a digestif or used in cooking. Varieties of eau-de-vie include Framboise, made from raspberries; Kirsch, made from cherries; Slivovitz, made from plums; and Poire, made from pears, most famously from Williams (Bartlett) pears.
Pomace brandies are most often made from grapes, though other fruit can be used, as long as the fruit’s name appears on the label. Marc is the French term for these products, while Grappa is used in Italy and California. They are usually unaged and seldom spend any time in wood, making them a little harsher than aged brandies but allowing more of the grape flavor to come through.