I normally try to approach every new-to-me spirit with an open mind, but I'll admit this much: I cracked into my E&J XO mini with no small degree of apprehension.
Having watched a few videos about the brandy, I can tell you that the Youtubers getting ripshit on the XO far outnumber those who are slowly sipping it and giving it a nuanced appraisal. One video review features two brothers, barely coherent, one of which tries on a visor in about nine different ways as he slurs about how even dank weed is getting real expensive in his part of town.
Then again, E&J are are the same people responsible for Thunderbird, so perhaps the legacy of the Gallo winemakers precede themselves a bit here.
Suffice it to say that I was incredibly surprised that this stuff was not at all bad. However, what really had me sold was that when I found a fifth of the XO to replace my mini, I found that it was only $14. And this was from the fancy supermarket in town that overcharges on everything. So sure, there are some people drinking this because it's a very price-attractive option when it comes to hammering a bottle until your legs stop working. However, I'm sure there are people besides me who would choose to drink this even when other options exist.
Be warned: if you're looking for an ascendant experience with brandy, or even something comparable to French cognacs, you are absolutely not going to get it with E&J XO. However, you are getting a spirit that sacrifices almost all degree of complexity for a set of flavors that I would call "comfortable."
There's certainly a bourbon-esque influence that comes from the oak aging in terms of aroma, but the nose smells mostly of cinnamon candies and Swedish fish. And the taste? To my palate, Swedish Fish. I shit you not. It's huge on fruit gummy flavors, which was apparently well within the realm of possibility for what kinds of flavors you can get from a grape-based spirit. I suppose it makes sense.
Drinking the E&J XO brings back memories of opening up a pack of Fruit Roll-Ups on a hot playground. I'm reminded of nights spent binging on one-month-old Halloween candy (consumed warm and out of a pillowcase, of course). It's all of the bad nutritional decisions I made as a child in liquid form. It's sugary and sweet, but just adequately balanced out by a hint of wood spice.
And the finish is honestly nowhere near as harsh as you would expect: apparently this stuff is aged somewhere on the order of 7 years, which I think goes a long way on mellowing this out. Oddly enough, the "XO" classification puts the aging range along French standards, which the US isn't legally bound to follow. That degree of craft and care is almost puzzling in something this cheap. Then again, Gallo has a lot of decent grapes from Central California and the luxury of waiting on a product to mature thanks to its size.
This is probably as good of a place as any to mention that our reviews factor value into the scoring. I'll state for the record that E&J XO is objectively not better than something like the Dimple Pinch. However, when liquor is as cheap as this, typically you expect it to burn like boric acid and taste all kinds of rotten. The E&J XO is a one-note affair, and it's sweet as all get-out, but if you're on board for that and are willing to evaluate a $14 bottle on its own terms, I think you'll be as pleasantly surprised as I was.