The Spirit of Normandy: An Exploration of Calvados and Calvados Pays d’Auge
Calvados is a brandy that comes from the distillation of apple and pear cider, a light and very aromatic wine produced throughout Normandy through the fermentation of apple juice and pears that are first chopped, pressed, and fermented.
Calvados is the distillate that made Normandy famous all over the world. It is a tribute to the creativity and care of the French, who, even in a harsh climate like Normandy, where only apples, pears, and oysters grow, have made their own wine, even if it is made from apples and pears.
So much so that there are many imitations of this great product (after all, it is enough to have an apple tree available!). Beginning with the Apple Jack, the American version of Calvados, which is growing rapidly but remains immature and crude in comparison to the Norman godfather.
How Calvados is made
Exactly like Cognac, Armagnac, and Brandy, Calvados is a brandy that starts from the distillation of wine, therefore of an alcoholic beverage that, through the distillation with an alembic, turns into steam, thanks to the heat, and then condenses back to the liquid state in a coil that collects the steam, reaching a minimum of 40 degrees.
The liquid that comes out is aged in oak wood, and then it can be mixed with other Calvados or watered down to get the right amount of alcohol.
How to drink it and how to serve Calvados
But if it is true that Calvados could be defined as an apple wine brandy, if we wanted to compare the two spirits and trivialize the concept, it is also true that it has a unique and very particular flavor, due to the use of a hundred types of apples. grown in Normandy, not to mention the addition of pears.
Organoleptic characteristics of Calvados
A great Calvados is sumptuous, rich and pungent, sharp and floral, and begins with apple and pear flavors. There are flavors and ethereal notes given by distillation, but it is the aging in oak barrels that makes the distillate precious, complex, and structured.
Calvados gets its flavor from the tannins in the wood. Spices, roasting, and bringing out the flavors of herbs are all ways to add to the range of flavors.
Refining not only adds flavors but also improves the distillate. As the distillate evaporates and concentrates, it gets smoother, and the amount of alcohol in it goes down. In the barrel, calvados oxygenates, oxidizes slowly, and becomes darker, first a golden color and then an amber color.
Let’s open a parenthesis on the flavor of Calvados: each distillery makes a different product, trying various types of apples, and as we said, there are about a hundred good ones.
Although the classification of apples is quite easy to guess: sour, sweet, sweet, and bitter, we end up with bitter apples.
Finding the right blend is part of each distillery’s house recipe. It also changes based on the year and the type of wood that will be used to refine the distillate. And this brings us to an important point: the different kinds of calvados and how they change over time.
The one called Calvados, and that’s it, is the simplest and also the most widespread; the base cider is distilled only once, very often in a continuous still; let’s say it is the most immediate and simple product.
The best is Calvados Pays d’Auge, which is rich and complex, made with apples from the same area, and distilled twice in copper stills that don’t touch each other. Distillation is slower and more accurate, and the complexity of the final product is also more nuanced.
Calvados de Domfrontais, made in the same region, contains 15% poiré de pere (pear cider), which makes it even softer and more intriguing.
Calvados production area
Again, the French don’t take short cuts and are known for being honest and true to the terroir. Calvados is the region where it was born, Pays d’Auge is the region next to it, and each region has a product that comes from a well-defined area.
It is very similar to the classification of cognac and armagnac, and just like for these spirits, only the age of the youngest distillate counts.
If you mix 2-year calvados with 30-year calvados, the final product is aged for two years. This detail is important because, like brandies, calvados is also a blend of different vintages and spirits by type and age. What matters to the master distiller is the final product, so we try to mix to find balance and finesse.
Trois étoiles, Trois pommes denotes two-year-aged calvados.
V.O., Vielle Réserve, or V.S.O.P., indicates distillates with four years of aging.
Extra, X.O., Napoleon, Hors d’Age, and Age Inconnu are six-year-old spirits.
Millesime, which means “vintage,” is when the year of production is special and is written on the label. However, in this case, only the year of production is written on the label, not how long it was aged.
How to serve Calvados: how do you drink it?
Calvados is a distillate that is sometimes strong and rough, but has a lot of character. It is hard to capture the taste of Normandy in a bottle, but Calvados does it well, even though it is disrespected in Italy, which is a shame for a product with so much potential.
Calvados is not for everyone; it has a distinct flavor that is both pungent and subtle, aromatic, and does not taste like Bourbon, grappa, or cognac; it is always the son of cider. For this reason, Calvados is drunk at a temperature of 18–20 degrees, like the best spirits, in large glasses, to be held in the hand. The minimum alcohol content of Calvados is 40 degrees.
It is the most flexible and wide-ranging distillate: aged cheeses if it is fruity, chocolate for the most bitter and tenacious; smoked salmon; desserts such as tiramisù and zuppa inglese; apple pie; and fruit crumble.