by Ian Blackshaw
A bottle of fine Calvados Pays d'Auge
Regular readers of my wine articles will know that I am not into spirits – at least, generally speaking. Some friends of ours do enjoy their spirits and particularly enjoy Calvados, which they regularly offer as an after dinner drink (digestif). I usually refuse. But the other day, I accepted and enjoyed the experience, especially as the Calavados was a good quality one. Apparently, as I suppose one might expect, there is Calvados and Calvados! It was, in fact, a Boulard from the Pays d’Auge, one of the three appellations contrôlées of Calvados – and probably the best one!
Calvados is an apple brandy from the Lower Normandy Region (Basse-Normandie) of North Western France.
The area called “Calvados” – well-known for its apple orchards – was created after the French Revolution, but an ‘eau de vie de cidre’ was already called Calvados in common usage; the first known Norman distillation of cider brandy was carried out by ‘Lord’ de Gouberville in 1554. So, it has been around for a respectable period of time!
Calvados is distilled from specially grown and selected apples, of which apparently there are over 200 varieties. It is not uncommon for a Calvados producer to use over 100 specific varieties of apples, which are either sweet (such as the Rouge Duret); tart (such as the Rambault); or bitter (such as the Mettais, Saint Martin, Frequin, and Binet Rouge varieties), with the latter variety being quite inedible!
The fruit is picked (usually by hand) and pressed into a juice that is fermented into a dry cider. It is then distilled into an eau de vie.
An Alembic Pot Still used in producing Calvados
After two years of aging in oak casks, it can be sold as Calvados. The longer it is aged, the smoother the drink becomes. Usually the maturation goes on for several years. The VSOP Calvados is at least four years’ old. A bottle of a twenty-year-old Calvados, for example, can easily command twice the price of a bottle of a ten-year-old Calvados.
The longer the Calvados is aged, the more its taste resembles that of any other aged brandy. As Calvados ages, it becomes golden or darker brown with orange elements and red mahogany. According to Calvados connoisseurs, the nose and palate are quite delicate, with a concentration of aged apples and dried apricots, balanced with butterscotch, nut and chocolate aromas. So, it is quite complex!
Calvados can be made from a single generally exceptionally good year for the fruit and, in such cases, the label on the bottle mentions that year.
In other words, vintage Calvados.
Incidentally, Calvados is the regimental drink of The Royal Canadian Hussars and Le Régiment de Maisonneuve, having been taken up as the units passed through Normandy following the D-Day Landings of 6 June, 1944.
Calvados can be drunk as an aperitif or a digestif, or as part of a sorbet in the middle of a meal (as a palate cleanser and a very fine one too!), when it forms an essential ingredient of the famous and very popular ‘Le Trou Normand’ served at French gourmet dinners! So, it is quite a versatile drink! But watch out: Calvados has a 40% by volume alcohol content. So, drink in moderation and enjoy every drop!