When I think of brandy, I picture a large bowl of a snifter cupped gently by someone wearing a smoking jacket, much like the pic of Snoop (technically he's sipping Landy Cognac in this pic).
Brandy is a spirit made by distilling grapes to a higher proof than they achieve as wine, usually between 35%-60% alcohol by volume.
The name "Brandy" comes from brandywine, derived from the Dutch "brandewing" which means burnt wine. When referring to Brandy, it usually denotes grape brandy, if the type is not otherwise stated.
While most brandies achieve their colour from the addition of caramel colouring (to imitate the ageing effect), some others are aged in wooden casks, which impart a natural taste and colour to the distilled wine.
Brandy has been a popular drink for hundreds of years and is most often enjoyed as an after-dinner drink. Some suggest that it should be warmed slightly, usually using a candle or a small flame before drinking it. Warming the spirit causes the vapors to become much stronger and the alcohol to become more viscous. Many connoisseurs recommend treating brandy like any other wine and drinking it at room temperature (16 °C (61 °F), where it has a more pleasant aroma and flavor.
Fruit brandies are made from fruits other than grapes. Peaches, apples, apricots, plums, raspberries and blackberries are the most common fruits used. Unlike grape brandy, it is usually colorless and is drunk chilled over ice.
Grappa, an Italian variety of brandy is made using the seeds, stems and residue pulp left over from pressing grapes in juice for wine.
Now what is Cognac?
Cognac is just brandy. But this brandy can only be labelled Cognac if it is produced in Western area of France, known as Cognac. The growing area, also known as the Charentes region grows three main grape varietals: Ugni Blanc, Colombard and Folle Blanche. The terroir
What does all that labelling A.C., V.S.O.P. and X.O. mean?
A.C.: aged two years in wood.
V.S.: "Very Special" or 3-Star, aged at least three years in wood.
V.S.O.P.: "Very Superior Old Pale" or 5-Star, aged at least five years in wood.
X.O.: "Extra Old", Napoleon or Vieille Reserve, aged at least six years, Napoleon at least four years.
Vintage: Stored in the cask until the time it is bottled with the label showing the vintage date.
Hors d'age: These are too old to determine the age, although ten years plus is typical, and are usually of great quality.