Brandy is the name used for a wide range of potable spirits, made mostly from grape wines but sometimes also from other fruits (for fruit brandies see Eaux-de-Vie). The name brandy is a shortened form of brandywine, which an anglicized form of Dutch brandewijn, which means "burnt wine".
To make brandy, wine is heated in a still until it separates into its components, which evaporate at various points on the temperature scale. The more volatile the component, the lower the temperature at which it evaporates, leaving behind the impurities and heavier compounds. This is the process used to turn wine into brandy.
Brandy is often aged in wooden barrels, which increases its complexity and color intensity. The attractive amber hue of aged brandy is often replicated in unaged brandy through the use of soluble food colorings such as caramel color (additive number E150). The length of aging and the type of barrel used are both important elements in determining the qualities of the brandy inside.
In Cognac and Armagnac, southwest France, brandy production has been taken seriously for centuries. Both of these areas have protected appellations for the brandy they make, and legally regulated labeling terms are used to communicate the length of time a brandy has spent in barrel.
VS (Very Special) denotes that a Cognac has spent a minimum of two years in cask, while VSOP (Very Special Old Pale) requires at least four years. XO is the finest
VSOP (Very Special Old Pale) requires at least four years. XO is the finest
XO is the finest grade, and is reserved exclusively for those cuvees aged for six years or more.
"Hors d'Age", although unofficial, is also used to mark Cognacs which have exceeded even the most demanding barrel aging regimes.
Italy's most famous strong alcohol, grappa, straddles the accepted definitions of eau-de-vie and brandy, as some are aged in barrel, while others are not. (See Grappa di Toscana.)