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Calvados

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Calvados is an apple brandy from the French région of Basse-Normandie or Lower Normandy. Calvados is distilled from specially grown and selected apples, of which there are over 200 named varieties. It is not uncommon for a Calvados producer to use over 100 specific varieties of apple to produce their Calvados. The apples used are either sweet (such as the Rouge Duret variety), tart (such as the Rambault variety), or bitter (such as the Mettais, Saint Martin, Frequin, and Binet Rouge varieties), with the latter category of apple being 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 eau de vie. After two years 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. A half-bottle of twenty-year-old Calvados can easily command the same price as a full bottle of ten-year-old Calvados.

Left: A bottle of calvados Pays D'Auge.

Double or single distillation may be used to produce calvados:

  • Double distillation is carried out in a traditional alembic pot still, called either "l'alambic à repasse" or "charentais".

  • Single continuous distillation in a column still.

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The usual arguments for and against the two processes are that the former process gives the spirit complexity and renders it suitable for longer aging whilst the latter process gives the calvados a fresh and clean apple flavour but with less complexity. In fact there is a growing belief that a well operated column still can produce as complex and "age-able" Calvados as Double Distillation.

Left: A column still used to produce calvados.

The age on the bottle refers to the youngest constituent of the blend. A blend is often composed of old and young calvados. Producers can also use the terms below to refer to the age.

  • "Fine", "Trois étoiles ***", "Trois pommes"—at least two years old.

  • "Vieux"—"Réserve"—at least three years old.

  • "V.O." "VO", "Vieille Réserve", "V.S.O.P." "VSOP"—at least four years old.

  • "Extra", "X.O." "XO", "Napoléon", "Hors d'Age" "Age Inconnu"—at least six years old. Often sold much older.

High quality calvados usually has parts which are much older than that mentioned. Calvados can be made from a single (generally, exceptionally good) year. When this happens, the label often carries that year.

Well-made calvados should naturally be reminiscent of apples and pears, balanced with flavours of ageing. The less aged calvados distinguishes itself with its fresh apple and pear aromas. The longer the calvados is aged, the more the taste resembles that of any other aged brandy. As calvados ages, it may become golden or darker brown with orange elements and red mahogany. The nose and palate are delicate with concentration of aged apples and dried apricots balanced with butterscotch, nut and chocolate aromas.

Calvados can be served as aperitif, blended in drinks, between meals, as a digestif, or with coffee.

 

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