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Are there brandies/cognacs/armagnacs as good as French ones made elsewhere?

Ever since I was in my twenties, my hard liquor of choice has been French brandy. By "brandy," I mean cognac, armagnac, and any other "nacs" made in France. The good ones, like Courvoisier, Hennessy, and Martell, all seem superior to me to brandies made elsewhere. (There are many other French ones, as well, but these are the least expensive brands sold in the U.S. which seem absoutely great to me.) Whenever I try Mexican, Spanish, or American brandy, it seems too sweet, as if too much carmel "coloring/flavoring" had been added. And it is not as aromatic or smooth.

Is there anywhere outside of France where they make brandies competitive in flavor--dry, smooth, and aromatic--to the ones which I have named? I realize that if I spend a $100 or more on a bottle of brandy, I can probably find something similar somewhere, but for the price, say U.S. $40 per bottle, or less, is there anything made in (say) Italy, Spain, Great Britain, Portugal, Germany, Mexico, the United States, Brazil, Argentina which comes close to the quality of French brandy? And if not, why not?

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  1. Germain Robin out of California are the best brandies in the US. Some say as good as any from Cognac. Some say the top ones are even better.

    1 Reply
    1. re: JMF

      Germain Robin is wonderful. Their basic brandy goes for about $50 ($49.99 at BevMo), which is more than $40 but well worth it.

    2. Very high quality Brandy is not to be had for $40 a bottle.
      Both the US and Spain produce some very good Brandies but they do not cost $40
      I would also argue that French products in that price range are just not that amazing.

      1. There is a lot of shitty brandy in France too.

        7 Replies
        1. re: jpc8015

          I think Masson Grande Amber VSOP is as good if not better than the basic offerings from Hennessey and Courvoisier, at about 1/3 the price.

          1. re: ncyankee101

            There are plenty of fine brandies from America, Spain, Eastern Europe, and South America. There are also lots of shitty brandies from France.

            The idea that France has a monopoly on the production of drinkable brandy is laughable.

            1. re: jpc8015

              Supposedly there are some very fine brandies from Azerbaijan. Then you have tipples like Asbach Uralt, Metaxa, Fundador etc - maybe not to your taste but definitely potable. I'll stick to Marie Duffau and Landy with an occasional splurge on Delamain.

              1. re: kagemusha49

                Man, I love Delamain. we don't drink a ton of brandy, but we keep a bottle of that for when we want to. It's phenomenal.

                1. re: kagemusha49

                  Thanks, Kagemusha. I appreciate your taking the time to list some alternatives.

                  I've had Asbach Uralt (in fact, went on vacation last year to where it is produced--Rudesheim, Germany) and I thought it was too sweet.

                  My father swore by three star and seven star Greek Metaxa. I thought the drink was great, but it is more like an after dinner liqueur than a brandy--way too sweet.

                  I think I had Fundador when I lived in Mexico forty years ago, but maybe not. I'll try it and see how it is. Thanks for the suggestion.

                2. re: jpc8015

                  JPC,

                  I didn't say that France had a monopoly on the production of drinkable brandy. Where did you get that from my post? I said that France seemed to produce more good brandy (smoother, less sweet, more aromatic) at a lower cost than I could find elsewhere. The goal of the posting was to find other equally good brandies at a comparable or lower cost.

                  "There are plenty of fine brandies from America, Spain, Eastern Europe and South America," you wrote. I'm looking for them. What are they called?

                  1. re: gfr1111

                    From your post:

                    "The good ones, like Courvoisier, Hennessy, and Martell, all seem superior to me to brandies made elsewhere. (There are many other French ones, as well, but these are the least expensive brands sold in the U.S. which seem absoutely great to me.) Whenever I try Mexican, Spanish, or American brandy, it seems too sweet, as if too much carmel "coloring/flavoring" had been added. And it is not as aromatic or smooth."

                    I don't know what you were trying to say here if you weren't saying that French brandy is better than all other brandies just by the virtue that it is made in France; especially the first sentence.

            2. You might try Landy cognac VSOP for $30/bottle and Marie Duffau armagnac for around $33. These are both French and considerably cheaper than $100/bottle. Marie Duffau has pretty much become my go-to "nac".

              1 Reply
              1. re: kagemusha49

                I second the Landy, made by Ferrand.

              2. Jeff, you've opened up an incredible can of worms albeit unintentional, I'm sure. As I don't know how much you actually know about the subject, let me start at the very beginning with a few basics (regardless of what's already been written; bear with me) . . .

                You already know that brandies are made all over the world. COGNAC is merely one type of brandy, and its production zone is limited to a very small, very specific corner of France -- make it there, follow some very specific regulations, and you can call your brandy "Cognac." Make it there, but don't follow the regulations? NOT Cognac. Make it elsewhere, but following the same specific regulations? NOT Cognac.

                ARMAGNAC? Same thing, but from a different part of France.

                BRANDY DE JEREZ? Same thing, but from Jerez, in Spain.

                These are the three most famous (grape) brandies in the world, but -- again -- brandy is made the world over.

                You mentioned three specific brands of Cognac: "(t)he good ones, like Courvoisier, Hennessy, and Martell." These are three of the four largest producers -- you left out Rémy Martin -- and certainly these are the four best known brands as well. And they *are* good . . . compared to most non-Cognacs, but they aren't very good (just better known) compared to other producers/brands widely available -- even in Tampa!

                The region of Cognac makes the very BEST Cognac in the world . . . Armagnac makes the finest Armagnac on Earth . . . and no one produces Brandy de Jerez like the producers of Brandy de Jerez. They are different from one another, and from every other region on the planet!

                Now, that said, of all the brandies produced ELSEWHERE in the world, there are some California Alambic brandies that are very reminiscent stylistically to Cognac. The easiest of these to find, also the oldest of the California alambics, is Germain-Robin -- http://www.craftdistillers.com/produc... -- whereas Osocalis is very small, with a very limited production, and is thus hard to find even in California, let alone Florida!

                Nothing from California, or elsewhere really, is close stylistically to Armagnac.

                Most California and Mexican brandies are made in column stills, rather than pot stills, and will be nothing like a Cognac or Armagnac. They still can be very good, but there's nothing about these column-distilled brandies that will be reminiscent of what you're looking for . . .

                The same can be said for the grape brandies made throughout the rest of France -- they, too, often are produced using column stills, and while I might use some for cooking, I'd rather not drink them.

                /\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

                A word about caramel coloring and boisé. Both are legal to use in Cognac and elsewhere. Since brandies are colorless when distilled, they pick up color from aging in oak. The addition of color makes the brandies *appear* older than they are. Similarly, the addition of boisé (basically pulverized wood) adds the aroma and flavor of having been in oak longer than they actually were. The "Big Four" (Courvoisier, Hennessy, Martell, Rémy Martin) ALL use coloring and boisé, but many Cognac distillers do not. Léopold Gourmel -- http://www.leopold-gourmel.com/en/ -- does not, for example, and IIRC, neither does Maison Surrenne -- http://www.craftdistillers.com/produc... -- among many others.

                /\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

                I would AVOID the "Big Four" from Cognac. Relative to other producers, they simply aren't all that great and (IMHO) overpriced for what you get.

                In addition to the two (very small) producers I mentioned above (both of which are outstanding, IMHO), I'd look for Cognacs from the following producers, presented in alphabetical order:

                Delamain -- http://www.delamain-cognac.fr
                Hine -- http://www.hinecognac.com
                Pierre Ferrand -- http://www.pierreferrandcognac.com/en/

                /\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

                More information and suggestions available upon request . . .

                2 Replies
                1. re: zin1953

                  Wow! Zin1953, I bow to a master on the topic. Yes, I am requesting more information and suggestions, please. Thanks for all the insight. I will certainly try your suggestions above and more would definitely be appreciated.

                  You mentioned Remy-Martin as one of the "big four" which I had left out. I knew there was one I had forgotten and spotted it at Walgreen's. (This was before your suggestion to avoid the Big Four.) As penance, I bought a bottle ($24.99 on sale, down from about $30.00 normally). But from now on, I will embark on a program of trying all those brandies which you and the other posters on this page have recommended.

                  Thanks.

                  1. re: gfr1111

                    Hardly a master, though I hope I've learned a few things during my career in the wine trade . . . ;^)

                    Cognac first:

                    It's not a great analogy by any means, but think of the "Big Four" as McDonald's, Jack-in-the-Box, Burger King, and Taco Bell . . . sometimes (for some people) these will just "hit the spot," but they know there's better stuff out there -- some will care and seek out the better stuff; others are simply content where they are.

                    Told you it wasn't all that great . . . the "Big Four" are better than that, but somehow comparing, say, Outback or Sizzler with Peter Lugar's or even Morton's made even less sense to me.

                    Each "house" (producer) has its own style -- consistent throughout all its various bottlings of Cognac. Courvoisier, for instance, is rougher, more coarse; Rémy is the lightest (of the four); Martell the fullest; and so on. Smaller houses/producers like Hine, Delamain, Ferrand, Camus, Kelt, etc. each have their own styles . . . as do the "Big Four."

                    /\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

                    Armagnac is the "country cousin" of Cognac -- generally speaking, it's fuller, rounder, more robust . . . similar yet completely different. Here, too, there are large houses (Sempé, Janneau, Larressingle, de Montal, and others) as well as a myriad of small ones, including (but in no way limited to) Château de Tarriquet, Francis Darroze, Laberdolive.

                    Brandy de Jerez runs the gamut from light, dry, and elegant to heavy, rich, and rough.

                    California alambics emulate (generally) Cognac.

                    The brandies of Mexico (again, generally) emulate the brandies of Spain, for obvious reasons.

                    The key is to go forth and enjoy!