Bottle #35: Cardenal Mendoza Brandy de Jerez

Dec 6, 2023

Tiny bottle #35 is definitely wins the prize so far for packaging. It was in a cork box, which picked up some mold in its decades of storage. Inside the box, the bottle was wrapped in bright yellow cellophane. Beneath that was the bottle, with its elaborate and ornate label.

It’s a tiny bottle of Cardenal Mendoza brandy, from Sanchez Romate Hermanos in the Jerez region of Spain. Jerez is best known as the home of the famous fortified wine, sherry, but 95% of all Spanish brandy also comes from there. Sanchez Romate was established as a winery in 1781 and remains one of just a few locally owned wineries in the region today. After over 100 years of making and selling sherry, the family began making a brandy just for friends and family in 1887. But everyone liked it so much that they decided to bottle it, creating the Cardenal Mendoza brand.

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If you’ve been following My Tiny Bottles for a while, you’ll know that I’ve talked about brandy before – there’s been quite a bit of it in the collection so far. But just like the Cognac region of France has its own set of rules about what distinguishes Cognac, Spain has a complicated set of rules that define what this bottle is, which is a Brandy de Jerez. And while both Cognac and Brandy de Jerez are brandy, when it comes to the details they couldn’t be more different!

Key among those differences is that Brandy de Jerez — and also Sherry, by the way — uses a solera system for aging. In a solera system, there are tiers of barrels. The bottom-most tier is where the mature brandy (or wine) is bottled from. Key to the system, however, is that only 1/3 of the brandy in those barrels is bottled at any given time, and then the barrels are topped up from the tier above them. And those, in turn, are topped up from the barrels above them, and so on. When all the barrels have been replenished after bottling, then new brandy is added into the top-most level. What this means is that every bottle contains a mix of older and younger brandy. To the extent an age statement is provided for brandies from a solera system, it represents an average of sorts, rather than the typical rule of the age being the youngest brandy in the bottle.

The solera system used for Cardenal Mendoza has 8 tiers, with each tier containing approximately 400 barrels! (To be clear, these are not literal tiers of barrels stacked on top of each other. Think of them as sets of barrels, all stored in a warehouse.) The brandy is aged for three years before entering the system, and the average age of what ends up in the bottle is 15 years old. All barrels must have previously held sherry in them, which contributes a distinct flavor to Spanish brandy. But the barrels are required to be at least three years old, so they are pretty neutral and don’t impart a lot of wood character to the spirit. Another thing that makes Spanish brandy distinct is the grape varieties that are used, which in Jerez is mostly a heat and drought tolerant variety called Airén.

Underneath the yellow cellophane my tiny bottle of brandy has a tax strip, which makes assigning an age range so much easier! This bottle must be from between 1982 and 1985. Without that tax strip, this would have been a much harder bottle to date – the label has stayed remarkably consistent through the decades, and the modern bottle looks nearly the same.

One of the purposes of a solera system is to ensure consistency, so I’m very curious how this one will taste compared to the modern version. And I’m really happy this bottle turned up when it did, because at the time I’m writing this, I’m about to head off on a food tour to Jerez! So I’ll be bringing this bottle with me to taste in its homeland – come back next episode to see who my special guest ends up being, and what we thought of it!

Watch me taste this bottle with Borja & John.

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Bottle #35: Cardenal Mendoza Brandy de Jerez

Dec 6, 2023 |

Tiny bottle #35 is definitely wins the prize so far for packaging. It was in a cork box, which picked up some mold in its decades of storage. Inside the box, the bottle was wrapped in bright yellow cellophane. Beneath that was the bottle, with its elaborate and ornate label.

It’s a tiny bottle of Cardenal Mendoza brandy, from Sanchez Romate Hermanos in the Jerez region of Spain. Jerez is best known as the home of the famous fortified wine, sherry, but 95% of all Spanish brandy also comes from there. Sanchez Romate was established as a winery in 1781 and remains one of just a few locally owned wineries in the region today. After over 100 years of making and selling sherry, the family began making a brandy just for friends and family in 1887. But everyone liked it so much that they decided to bottle it, creating the Cardenal Mendoza brand.

If you’ve been following My Tiny Bottles for a while, you’ll know that I’ve talked about brandy before – there’s been quite a bit of it in the collection so far. But just like the Cognac region of France has its own set of rules about what distinguishes Cognac, Spain has a complicated set of rules that define what this bottle is, which is a Brandy de Jerez. And while both Cognac and Brandy de Jerez are brandy, when it comes to the details they couldn’t be more different!

Key among those differences is that Brandy de Jerez — and also Sherry, by the way — uses a solera system for aging. In a solera system, there are tiers of barrels. The bottom-most tier is where the mature brandy (or wine) is bottled from. Key to the system, however, is that only 1/3 of the brandy in those barrels is bottled at any given time, and then the barrels are topped up from the tier above them. And those, in turn, are topped up from the barrels above them, and so on. When all the barrels have been replenished after bottling, then new brandy is added into the top-most level. What this means is that every bottle contains a mix of older and younger brandy. To the extent an age statement is provided for brandies from a solera system, it represents an average of sorts, rather than the typical rule of the age being the youngest brandy in the bottle.

The solera system used for Cardenal Mendoza has 8 tiers, with each tier containing approximately 400 barrels! (To be clear, these are not literal tiers of barrels stacked on top of each other. Think of them as sets of barrels, all stored in a warehouse.) The brandy is aged for three years before entering the system, and the average age of what ends up in the bottle is 15 years old. All barrels must have previously held sherry in them, which contributes a distinct flavor to Spanish brandy. But the barrels are required to be at least three years old, so they are pretty neutral and don’t impart a lot of wood character to the spirit. Another thing that makes Spanish brandy distinct is the grape varieties that are used, which in Jerez is mostly a heat and drought tolerant variety called Airén.

Underneath the yellow cellophane my tiny bottle of brandy has a tax strip, which makes assigning an age range so much easier! This bottle must be from between 1982 and 1985. Without that tax strip, this would have been a much harder bottle to date – the label has stayed remarkably consistent through the decades, and the modern bottle looks nearly the same.

One of the purposes of a solera system is to ensure consistency, so I’m very curious how this one will taste compared to the modern version. And I’m really happy this bottle turned up when it did, because at the time I’m writing this, I’m about to head off on a food tour to Jerez! So I’ll be bringing this bottle with me to taste in its homeland – come back next episode to see who my special guest ends up being, and what we thought of it!

Watch me taste this bottle with Borja & John.

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