Korbel X.S. "Extra Smooth" Brandy

Feb 19, 2002

The Bottom Line Some of the best under $15 brandy in the world. (This is a review of the new Korbel X.S. "Extra Smooth" Brandy.)

Korbel Cellars of Guerneville, California, produces some of the best under $15 brandy in the world.

I first visited Korbel Cellars in 1987 (Guerneville, California). I have been drinking Korbel sparkling wine products for about 15 years now, but had not tried any of its brandy products until recently. A number of California wine producers (E&J Gallo, Paul Masson, Christian Brothers) also produce brandy in addition to their regular wine offerings. Part of the reason for this product line diversification is simple: Their brandy is simply the end product of distilled wine. It's a perfect way to expand one's product line and extend product offerings into different

Korbel Cellars produces a fairly comprehensive range of sparkling wines:

  - Brut
  - Extra Dry
  - Blanc
  - Chardonnay Champagne
  - Brut Rose
  - Brut Rose (Jane Seymour designer bottle)
  - Brut Rose (Whoopi Goldberg designer bottle)
  - Rose (Frank Sinatra designer bottle)
  - Natural
  - Blanc de Noirs
  - Blanc de Noirs Vintage
  - Rouge
  - Sec
  - Le Premier

...as well as a small line-up of brandies:

Korbel Classic Brandy -- Slow barrel aged, in contact with oak and natural charcoal. Produced since 1889.

Korbel California VSOP Gold Reserve Brandy -- extra aged, higher alcohol content: 90 proof.

Korbel X.S. -- The newest brandy in the Korbel family. Sweet and spiced.

Korbel X.S. Brandy
Korbel's "X.S." offering is blended (and spiced) with "natural flavors" to create an "Extra Smooth" (i.e., X.S.) brandy. What Korbel did was take its very good 3-star, V.S. brandy and add a few things to it to make it more interesting: vanilla from Madagascar, pure cane sugar (and quite a bit, judging from the taste), natural orange essence and other spices. And, yes, only grapes grown and harvested in California are used in Korbel's brandy products.

The X.S. brandy is distilled in copper-lined vessels to a high distillation proof of 169 (nearly 85% alcohol by volume). It is blended down to a barrel proof of 130, at which time it is laid to rest in small, 52-gallon American oak barrels that are charred to impart charcoal flavoring, color and added depth. Prior to bottling, each year's vintage is blended with those from previous years to achieve a consistent flavor profile. The final product is blended down to a final proof of 80 (40% alcohol by volume).

Color: deep Orange-Caramel.

Nose: Sweet and full of cane sugar, hint of apricot fruit.

Flavor and Finish: Very sweet and smooth; no alcohol burn but some warmth that makes this brandy seem more like a liqueur in mouthfeel. Presence and flavor of cane sugar is dominant, with hints of vanilla and citrus and stone fruits. Very sweet and clean finish.

According to Paul Ahvenainen, Korbel's Brandy Master, "Korbel is the only major brandy maker in the U.S. which still maintains total control of its own wine making, brandy distillation, barrel aging, blending and bottling. Our own people, in our own facilities, closely control every step of the brandy making process."

From my experience in trying various California-produced brandies, I'll add that Korbel's brandies are just about the best produced in the under $15 price range.

Price and Availability
Korbel brandies should be available nationwide at most well-stocked liquor retailers. At Beverages and More (www.bevmo.com) a 750ml bottle of the Korbel X.S. Brandy is available for $13; 50ml "mini bottles" are available at $1.99 -- not a very good price, since these particular bottles are sold at my neighborhood liquor store selling at a discount of 2-for-$1.75 (was once introductory priced at 3-for-$2!).

A 750ml bottle of Korbel Brandy VSOP also retails for about $13 per bottle, while a 750 ml bottle of the price leading product, Korbel Brandy goes for about $10.

Korbel bandy products are available in various sizes: 50, 200, 375, and 750ml bottles.

I've tried the Korbel X.S. Brandy on a number of occasions and really enjoyed it, served straight, with a cigar. This is a very smooth brandy and, although sweet, it works well with highly spiced and woody cigars. Would also work well as a mixer with soft drinks. I really like it.

Verdict: 4-stars. A great brandy to pair with heavy cigars. Inexpensive, but well made.

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