In an age when everything seems to have a sleek re-design or sexy updated look, I’m a sucker for any brand that looks unchanged since day one. That seems to be the case with Cardenal Mendoza Clásico, whose label looks straight out of its founding date of 1887.
Cardenal Mendoza is a Brandy De Jerez made in the sherry capital of Jerez, Spain. It comes from one of Spain’s oldest sherry bodegas, Sánchez Romate, which was established in 1781 by Juan Sánchez de la Torre and is one of the few remaining family-owned firms. The brandy was first created for the family’s own consumption, and is named for the 15th century cardinal who was counsel to King Ferdinand II and helped arrange Columbus’s voyage to the New World.
The juice itself is distilled from grapes in copper pot stills before being aged in ex-Pedro Ximénez and Oloroso sherry casks in the solera style. The brandy that makes it into Clásico has been aged for at least 15 years.
The nose is sweet, syrupy, and even a little musty. It’s heavy on raisins, prune juice and date oil, with touches of bitter orange rind and anise. It proves lush and round on the palate, with sweet starting notes of raisin and prune. The initial sweetness is cut by bitter orange rind at the middle, which is met by a hint of anise spice and leather towards the back. As we push towards the conclusion sweetness re-emerges in the form of darkly sweet dates and figs, which are subsequently washed out on a wave of sherry that escorts us towards a dry, rich finish.
Cardenal Mendoza Clásico proved unlike any brandy I’d had before. It retains some of the pleasing hotness and round, robust character brandies are identified with, but adds extra layers of flavor thanks to the notes of dark, sweet fruits and dry spices added through the aging process. If you’ll forgive me for trotting out a tired cliche, it’s a bit of a “you got peanut butter in my chocolate/you got chocolate in my peanut butter” scenario, only for brandy and sherry instead.
I enjoyed it enough on its own that I was hesitant to dilute it in a cocktail, but Cardenal Mendoza sent along instructions for a “Cardenal Old Fashioned.” The drink is made with two ounces of the brandy, a quarter-ounce each of simple syrup and Cardenal Mendoza’s Angêlus liqueur—a new release that macerates bitter oranges, cardamom, and other natural ingredients in the brandy—and three dashes of Angostura bitters. The simultaneously sweet and bitter Angêlus pulled out the existing orange rind flavors in the brandy beautifully, and the cardamom notes and bitters turned it into a spicebox of a cocktail that might just become my official after dinner Old-Fashioned.
— 40% ABV