Wine Culture and Information - Volume 12
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  Not Just Wine Issue 17, March 2004   
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Calvados

The brandy obtained by a particular variety of apples produced in the French region Normandy is among the most famous distillates of the world

 In 1588 the king of Spain Philip ordered his fleet to head to English coasts. One of the ships, the “El Salvador”, accidentally shipwrecked in French coasts. The reason of the shipwreck is not known, maybe because of the crew, or maybe because of the content of the hold, anyway, the legend goes that from that moment on the place of the shipwreck as well as the neighboring region was called Calvados. But this is just a legend.

 

A Little of History

 Since immemorial times apple trees prospered in the northern region of France called Normandy. Documents left by indigenous people, Celts and Romans, tell us about a region where apple trees prospered both as a wild tree, because of the ideal climate and territory suited for its natural development, and as a sacred tree. From the thirteenth century on, the old and big trees, spread everywhere in the region, were slowly replaced by other varieties: cyder apples (pommes à cidre). The indigenous varieties were replaced by other species called “Bisquet” and “Marin Onfroy”, certainly suited to bear fruits for the production of cyder.

 The natural landscapes of the region begins to change. In traditional Norman landscapes, where cows graze in the grass and among the high apple trees, takes place a progressive change and the grasses are particularly cared because they must be very soft in order to attenuate the falling of apples. The high trees are replaced by specialized varieties with a low trunk. The ancient landscape is certainly disappeared, however, not everything is lost. In springtime the landscape is characterized by thousands and thousands blossoming trees, and in autumn, when the fruits are ripe, the aromas permeates the air. Probably the best seasons to visit Normandy are autumn and spring.


 

 The production of cyder, once called Sydre and then Cidre, begins to develop until getting to a relevant importance in all the Norman region and therefore it spreads all over France. The origin of Calvados is certainly ambiguous. By reading old documents it can be found the first evidence about the distillation of cyder: March 28th, 1553. This information was found in the diary of Monsieur De Gouberville, a member of the nobility and expert gastronomer, who lived in Mesnil Au Val, in the peninsula of Cotentin in the English Channel, and despite the fact he mentioned the distillation of cyder, he did not say whether it was a common practice or a new technique.

 Some years later, in 1600, it was established the “Corporation of distillators of cyder brandy”. The name of the distillate derives from the area where it is produced. The region of Normandy called “Calvados” seems to be named like that because of the legend about the shipwreck of “El Salvador” ship that we already mentioned. In the beginning the spreading of the brandy was limited to the area of production but after the liberalization of trading, around the end of the 1700's, the Brandy of Calvados began to spread and became very popular in the capital Paris, where, with time, changes both its name in “Calvados”, and its destiny, becoming one of the most appreciated and famous brandies.

 In 1942 Calvados is recognized as AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée, Appellation of Controlled Origin), and in 1963 it was revised and were strictly set both the area and the methods of production as well as the type of alembics. Moreover were also set some norms concerning the finished product: before being commercialized, Calvados must receive the authorization by the Commission de Dégustation de l'Institut National des Apellation d'Origine (INAO), which verifies the fulfillments of every requirement as set by law.

 

The Production of Calvados

 Everything begins with cyder apples and do not imagine sweet and tasty apples. Cyder apples are not suited for consumption, their botanical origin is different from edible apples. There are hundreds of varieties of cyder apples, each one of them having its characteristics, however the varieties legally permitted for the production of cyder are fortyeight. Basically apples are classified in four groups: sweet, bitter, sweet/bitter and sour. To obtain a good quality cyder it is necessary to use different varieties in order to have a harmonious result. Sometimes can also be used pears in order to increase or to have the desired acidity.

 In general terms the ideal blending is as follows: 40% of sweet apples, 40% of bitter apples and 20% of sour apples. The preparation of cyder is made by scrupulously selecting apples, therefore the juice is being extracted by washing and pressing the fruits. The juice, that according to laws must be exclusively produced by fresh fruits, is being fermented for about three months, the necessary time in order to develop the right aromas, therefore it becomes cyder for distillation. This phase, just like the others, is very important: a good Calvados can be made only in case a good quality cyder was used.


The production area of
Calvados
The production area of Calvados

 The cyder must meet strict requisites: it must have at least 4.5% of alcohol, the adding of sugar is severely forbidden and the volatile acidity must be lower than 2,5 grams/liter. This requisites are valid for every type of Calvados. There are two types of Calvados: Calvados AOC and Calvados AOC du Pays d'Auge. “Calvados AOC du Pays d'Auge” must be produced with apples cultivated in the area called “Pays d'Auge” (see figure ), the fruits are processed inside this small area, finally, the cyder is distilled for two times by using an alembic similar to the one used for the distillation of Cognac.

 Concerning the “Calvados AOC”, apples must come from the area outside the “Pays d'Auge” (see figure ), and distillation must be done in a simple distillation alembic, also known as column alembic. Just like “Calvados AOC du Pays d'Auge”, produced in its typical area, also the rest of Calvados AOC area has its niches and peculiarities. Every area has different varieties of plants, a presence of cyder pears in different quantities as well as different environmental characteristics. These conditions, just like in wines and in other distillates, give origin to a number of products different one from each other even though produced with the same rules set by the production disciplinary.

 The distillation of cyder for the production of “Calvados AOC du Pays d'Auge” is done for two times by using an alembic similar to the one used for Cognac. The first phase of distillation is called première chauffe, from which, by eliminating the “head” and the “tail”, is obtained the acquette or brouillis. The second distillation, called bonne chauffe, uses the product of the first phase, and after having eliminated the head and the tail, it is obtained the brandy called Calvados, that can be considered as such only in case it has a percentage of alcohol lower than 72%.

 The alembic used for “Calvados AOC du Pays d'Auge” is made of 6 elements. The heater is the generator of heat which is gas or wood operated. The boiler, rigorously made of copper, contains the cyder to be distilled. The dome, located on the top of the boiler, let only the lightest steams to pass and avoids the foam to enter the cooling system. In the cyder heater the steams coming from the boiler, and before entering the cooler, pass for a container that pre-heats the cyder for the next distillation phase in order to make the system more efficient. The waiting cyder, held in this container, is heated at a temperature which is equal to 5 hours of heating in the boiler. The cooler, by cooling the steam down, allows the distilled liquid to be collected in a final tank.

 “Calvados AOC” is distilled in a column alembic and only for one time. The column alembic is made of three elements: the boiler, the first column and the concentration column. The boiler is the container in which the cyder is being boiled and from which passes to the superior part of the first column. This column receives the cyder in its higher part and it allows the cyder to flow down, along its lower plates, slowly and in order to make it release all of its aromas. Steams are then directed to the concentration column where the head and the tail of the distillate are being eliminated, they are then cooled therefore producing a brandy with a maximum percentage of 72% of alcohol. This is where the first phase of production of Calvados ends. Exactly like other brandies, the phase of aging completes, improves, refines and enriches the product obtained by distillation.

 

Aging

 For the aging of Calvados are being used casks of Norman oaks, made with very dry wood. The cask, when receives the young distillate, begins to pass its tannins therefore giving aromas, color, roundness to the brandy. The golden color of a young brandy slowly changes into a more and more intense gold or amber color, losing the aggressivity which characterizes a young brandy without lowering its strength. Moreover the porosity of wood allows the evaporation of a small part of the brandy, small but certainly not insignificant. Another aspect to be considered during the phase of aging is the role played by the air, or more precisely by oxygen. The oxidizing effect of the air in cellars, an air at a right temperature and humidity, greatly contributes to the physical and chemical evolution of Calvados, allowing the brandy to get more and more complex aromas. During the aging phase the percentage of alcohol lowers from about 70% to 40-45%.

 Every cellar has its cellar masters that with their knowledge and experience, try to take advantage of this processes in order to make the product they had in mind. There are many variable and endless possible combinations: distillate, wood, air, temperature, humidity and time. All these variable are measured, controlled, verified and corrected. Aging does not mean abandoning the distillate in the cellar. At the end of aging takes place the last phase preceding bottling: blending. Just like a chemist, an alchemist of the past, the cellar master proceed to the blending of many types of Calvados. The brandies coming from different areas and vintages are blended in order to create the final product destined to the consumer.

 There are many types of Calvados, however they are classified in two types: vintages and blends. A vintage Calvados is produced with only one distillate produced by the same distillation process of the specified year. Blended Calvados, produced with different brandies, the age written in the label represents the age of the youngest brandy. For example, in a 30 years old Calvados the youngest distillate in the blend is a 30 years old brandy, however it can also contain older brandies. The following is a list of the many denominations found in Calvados labels:

 

  • Trois Etoiles - (three stars) - (or Trois Pommes, three apples) indicate a minimum aging of two years in cask
  • Vieux - (Old) - (or Réserve, Reserve) indicate a minimum aging of three years in cask
  • Vieille Réserve - (Old Reserve) - (or V.O.) indicate a brandy with a minimum aging of four years in cask
  • VSOP - indicates a Calvados with a minimum aging of five years in cask
  • Extra, XO, Napoléon, Hors d'Age (no age), Age inconnu (age unknown) - six or more years of aging

 Sometimes in the labels is shown the year of bottling: this is an important information because every brandy, after bottling, ends its evolution. Generally young Calvados are used for the preparation of cocktails and long drinks, whereas aged Calvados are usually tasted alone and in meditation, or at the end of a meal. Calvados is a good digestive, French love having it even during meals, in the short time of waiting between courses. The best glass for tasting Calvados is the classic Cognac glass.

 



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  Not Just Wine Issue 17, March 2004   
CalvadosCalvados Wine ParadeWine Parade  Contents 
Issue 16, February 2004 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 18, April 2004

Wine Parade


 

The best 15 wines according to DiWineTaste's readers. To express your best three wines send us an E-mail or fill in the form available at our WEB site.


Rank Wine, Producer
1 Alto Adige Gewürztraminer Kolbenhof 2002, Hofstätter (Italy)
2 Margaux 2000, Ségla (France)
3 Franciacorta Cuvée Annamaria Clementi 1996, Ca' del Bosco (Italy)
4 Syrah Winemaker's Lot Vic 3, Concha y Toro (Chile)
5 Turriga 1998, Argiolas (Italy)
6 Fumé Blanc Napa Valley 2001, Grgich Hills (USA)
7 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Capitel Monte Olmi 1999, Tedeschi (Italy)
8 Barolo Brunate 1999, Enzo Boglietti (Italy)
9 Anjou 2001, Domaine de Montgilet (France)
10 Rioja Reserva Era Costana 1999, Bodegas Ondarre (Spain)
11 Masseto 1998, Tenuta dell'Ornellaia (Italy)
12 Barolo Cicala 1999, Poderi Aldo Conterno (Italy)
13 Colli Bolognesi Pignoletto Superiore “Prova d'Autore” 2001, Bonfiglio (Italy)
14 Sauvignon Blanc Reserve Marlborough 2002, Kaituna Hills (New Zealand)
15 Capo di Stato 1998, Conte Loredan Gasparin (Italy)

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