Fun With Calvados
In my column today, I once again recommend trying Calvados as a cocktail ingredient this fall, both in drinks like the Jack Rose or Apple Brandy Old-Fashioned and also as the perfect after-dinner sipper.
Calvados, for those who didn't catch my column on apple spirits last year, is a brandy produced from apples in Normandy. It is governed by an AOC, the French quality standard for agricultural products from particular geographical areas. Within the broad Calvados AOC, however, there is an appellation called Pays d'Auge that is considered to produce the very best quality. Calvados is made from predominantly bitter and bittersweet cider (not eating) apple varieties that are native to Normandy, and all of it must be aged at least two years. In Pays d'Auge, the rules are a bit stricter, and all of the spirit from there must be double distilled in an alembic pot still from cider that has fermented for at least six weeks.
All of the producers I visited on my recent trip were based in Pays d'Auge. Good Calvados, like good cognac and good Scotch, can be expensive, and the most expensive comes from Pays d'Auge. Fine Calvados can be a blend of different vintages and ages, or it can be bottled as a single vintage.
Christian Drouin Coeur de Lion is often listed simply as "Coeur de Lion" in online listings. Coeur de Lion Hors D'Age, a blend of 15-year-old spirits, is a sort of gold standard for me when it comes to blending. With 15 years of aging, nearly half of the alcohol in the cask has evaporated, concentrating the fruit. But it ain't cheap, usually retailing for over $100. Ace Beverage has another of Drouin's 15-year-old bottlings, the Alchemist, at $93. During my visit to Drouin, I also got to taste about a dozen of its best vintages, including the classic 1973 and the prized 1963 with its complex of forest, mushroom and apple pie ("a whole meal in a glass," says Guillaume Drouin). And perhaps the rarest Calvados in the world, Drouin's 1939 vintage: the only Calvados that's certified before World War II, when most of Normandy's cellars were destroyed or pillaged during the Nazi occupation.
Age isn't always the deciding factor in a good Calvados, however. At Roger Groult, I very much enjoyed the 8-year-old (a true value at about $55) over the 15-year-old ($70), and I would highly recommend it. I realize that even $55 sounds expensive compared with what I would normally suggest, but consider that you'll be sipping this after dinner, and it will last awhile. For those with the means, Roger Groult's 30-year-old Doyen d'Age, which sells for over $200, is pretty much one of the finest spirits I've ever tasted.
Last year, I recommended Domaine Dupont's Fine Reserve, imported by Washington-based Robert Kacher Selections, as a nice place for those interested to start at $40. Aged a minimum of three years, it's nice in cocktails and for sipping. From there, the 8-year-old Family Reserve is about $50, and the Hors d'Age is $60. All are available in the District.
If you're looking for a splurge that will pay for itself, I cannot recommend the spirits from these three distillers highly enough. I would put them up against the some of the best offerings from Cognac or Scotland.
-- Jason Wilson
The Food Section
September 23, 2009; 12:00 PM ET
Categories: Spirits | Tags: Calvados, Jason Wilson, Spirits
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