Tasting three European brandies: Hennessy VSOP, Vecchia Romagna and Asbach Urbrand

Brandy, the quintessential staple for booze loving grandmas the world over, is pretty cool in my book.

Growing up, brandy was used to disinfect my wounds and it was sprinkled on my socks to ward off the flu. It added kick to home-made tiramisu and flavoured my grandpa’s espresso.

These days, brandy is one of my favourite drinks. Give me a good brandy with a few brandy preserved cherries in it, and I am a happy man. But, not all brandy is created equal. I have had some pretty spectacular brandy, and some pretty ordinary brandy. I have tasted brandy made from a variety of fruit, but my preference is for grape brandy.

If you asked me to choose the most memorable brandy I’ve tasted, it wouldn’t be the oldest one to pass my lips or the most expensive one I’ve tried. It would be the one that left me gobsmacked because it was just so bloody delicious! DEAU Black and St Agnes 20 year old are two brandies that pop into my mind every time I crave something sweet, sticky and alcoholic.

The DEAU Black is defined mostly by syrupy tropical fruit, especially lychee. St Agnes 20 year old, on the other hand, gives me a mouth-watering array of chocolate, fruit cake, raisin and buzzing spices.   I drink these magical potions neat. No cherries needed.

For an every day brandy, I think Hennessy V.S.O.P Privilège punches well above its weight – I think you get a lot of bang for your buck with this brandy. Each bottle of Hennessy VSOP which I go through tastes just as lovely as the last. It is consistently a quality Cognac.

With that in mind, I decided to do a tasting of Hennessy VSOP alongside two other European grape brandies – Vecchia Romagna from Italy and Asbach Urbrand from Germany. In my opinion the Hennessy VSOP out-classes both.

My tasting notes are below. These brandies were tasted “blind”, which means I didn’t know what I was tasting when writing these notes.

Hennessy VSOP

Fresh, light and fruity, this brandy has energy about it as its aromas whizz about in the glass with pizzazz – lots of dates, dried figs and preserved cherries, and soft wood vanillas. On the palate, the brandy is almost a replica of the nose. There is a complex mix of sticky dried fruit (raisin, sultana, dates, dried figs, died cherries), mild herbs and warming spice that leaves the faintest tobacco and green peppercorn. And for the finale, the taste of caramel and raisin cake develop and then fade into gentle wood smoke and wood vanilla. This is a mightily drinkable and jammy brandy that is packed with dried fruit; uncomplicated, straight-forward and yet elegant. stars 4

Vecchia Romagna

The aroma of strong anise seed and softer citrus marmalade lurks somewhere within this young smelling brandy. On the palate, this brandy is watery and thin with intense anise seed flavours dominating over gentler herbal notes and caramels. The finish leaves gentle lingering sugary sweetness, and in particular soft licorice. This brandy is sweet, sugary and it tastes “liqueur-like” with some assertive, and quite eccentric, anise seed led flavours.  stars 3

Asbach Urbrand

The nose is light and soft, showcasing a very fruit-forward aroma which is defined by grape; it smells like the packs of sultana that I used to eat as a kid in primary school. That said, personally, I think it could benefit from some more time in oak. The taste is a compote of sultana, cinnamon and clove, and as the brandy rests on the palate it sweetens into a syrupy mix of sugary joy – fruit cake dusted with icing sugar and maraschino cherries! A flamboyant and fruity brandy; a real sweetie! Stars 3.5

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