Most visitors to Cape Town arrive unfamiliar with local brandy, a spirit that is making its mark worldwide.
South African brandy, unlike its French counterpart cognac, is typically made using Colombard and Chenin Blanc grapes. The grapes are harvested and crafted into a specific base wine: a wine with low acidity, little colour and with no added sulphur.
The base wine is then is distilled twice: first to create “low wines”, and then to concentrate the liquid into the fiery spirit that will mature into brandy. After the second distillation the brandy is matured in oak barrels for a minimum of three years, but often much longer. Some of South Africa’s finest brandies have spent over 30 years in barrel, maturing quietly in winelands storehouses.
“In South African brandies we aim for complexity; a subtle integration between the wood and the fruit,” explains Brink Liebenberg, Master Distiller for wine and brandy company Distell.
But before you point at any old bottle behind the bar, make sure you know what you’re ordering.
A blended brandy comes at the bottom of the pile, with a mix of pot still and column still spirits. These are your best bet if you’re mixing it with soft drinks. Vintage brandies are a step up, but it’s the pot still brandies that are your best choice. Made in copper pot stills and matured in wood before blending, they are South Africa’s answer to cognac.
That said… don’t tell the French, but local pot still brandies regularly beat French cognac in global competitions! Cheers to that.