Monday, October 3, 2016
I've been continuing my love affair with brandy, and for the next two weeks, I'll be reviewing apple brandies. This week, I'll taste three Calvados and next week, a number of other apple brandies. To prepare, I thought I'd start with a brief summary of Calvados.
Calvados is the world's foremost apple brandy. Produced in Normandy, France, Calvados is distilled cider made from apples and/or pears. The cider is often aged in oak casks prior to distillation, sometimes for years. Calvados must leave the still at no more than 72% abv. After distillation, the brandy must be aged in oak for at least two years and must be bottled at a minimum of 40% abv. As with other French brandies, coloring, sugar and wood chips are permissible additives.
Within Calvados, there are two legally recognized sub-appellations (though they do not cover the entire Calvados region, so some producers are not in either sub-region and are just part of the general Calvados Appellation):
The Pays d'Auge Region is the most prominent region of Calvados, similar to Grand Champagne in Coganc or Bas-Armagnac in Armagnac. Brandy labeled as Pays d'Auge must have no more than 30% pear, and many use 100% apple. Pays d'Auge Calvados is required to be double distilled in a pot still.
The Domfrontais Region requires that the Calvados be made from at least 30% pear up to as much as 100% pear. The Calvados must be distilled once in a column still. As in Armagnac, many Calvados producers do not have their own stills but distill their brandy in a traveling column still.
From what I understand, producers in these sub-regions do not have to follow the requirements listed above, but they can only use the regional designation on their label if they do.
Those are the basics, but I left out a lot of detail. There are tons of regulations in Calvados governing nearly every element of production from barrel size to permissible orchard irrigation. If you really want a deep dive, pick up a copy of Calvados: The Spirit of Normandy, Charles Neal's 700 plus page tome that examines every facet of Calvados production. Neal also keeps up a nice website with basic descriptions of Calvados production.
Tomorrow I start tasting.