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Wednesday 26 June 2024

Calvados a warming winter alternative to brandy and whisky

Calvados is a brandy from Normandy in northern France that is made from apples or pears, and is a perfect winter warmer.

In Australia, it is often overlooked in favour of whisky and Cognac, but it has a loyal following, particularly as an after-dinner tipple.

It is versatile, however, and can be enjoyed an aperitif, blended in mixed drinks, enjoyed between courses, as a digestif, or with coffee.

Apples have been grown in Normandy as far back at the 8th century, and the production of both cider and Calvados go back generations.

Eau de vie de cidre was called Calvados, after the name of the region.
A phylloxera outbreak in the last quarter of the 19th century devastated vineyards across France and with grape supply in decline, Calvados experienced a golden age.

Calvados is distilled from cider made from specially grown and selected apples, from over 200 named varieties. 

Fruit is harvested and pressed into a juice that is fermented into dry cider. It is then distilled in a pot still into white spirit eau de vie and gets its colour after 2-3 years aging in oak casks.

It is said that the longer it is aged, the smoother the drink becomes - and the best Calvados examples have often been aged for many years. Experts say the finest Calvados comes from the Pays d'Auge region.

Close relative AOC Calvados Domfrontais is made from pears, rather than apples, sometimes 100% pears.

In Australia, one of the key distributors of Calvados is Port Melbourne-based Cerbaco, whose brands include famous names Gontier, Christian Drouhin, Adrien Camut, Comte de Lauriston and Roger Groult, who featured recently on a Guillaume Brahimi TV show on SBS and prompted this story.

My favourite of a tasting this week was the intense and long Victor Gontier 2008 Vielle Reserve Domfrontais - it carries a 40% alcohol kick. The Lauriston Domfrontais (100% pear) is lighter and fruitier, while the Grout 8-years Pays d'Auge was a delightful all rounder, and there was plenty of intensity from the Drouin VSOP Pays d'Auge.  

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