Drinking in the Fall Flavours

By Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

The scent of fall in the air always brings my thoughts to dark spirits such as Calvados, Cognac, Armagnac and whiskies. Calvados, the apple brandy of Normandy is a particular favourite of mine for its glorious apple aromas and tastes – the very essence of a late fall harvest. I finally made a trip to that region this September and was just delighted by what I saw and drank.

The nearest city to the major Calvados producers is Deauville, nestled in the Bay of the Seine River on France’s Atlantic coast. It’s a favourite weekend destination for Parisians who pack the beaches during the summer months. From the City of Lights to the Neo-Norman style station in the heart of Deauville it’s an easy two-hour train ride.

The region got its name from the invasions of the Normans (i.e. the “north men” namely Danish and Norwegians). On the sea charts of the Norman coast from the 17th century, the Latin words “Calva-Dorsa” indicated two cliffs with crests between Arromanches and Anneles. The “Calva-Dorsa” were the first visible seamarks from open sea when the sailors were returning towards their home harbours. This Latin phrase eventually was contracted to be “Calvados”.

Calvados became the name of the “department” or area governed by the city of Caen (about a 50 minute drive from Deauville). It also became the name of the wonderful apple based spirit that is made in the region. The oldest and most famous of the great Calvados Houses is Maison Père Magloire in Pont l’Evêque, founded in 1821. It was one of the very first trademarks registered with the national intellectual property office (INPI) in France in 1925 and remains France’s most popular brand of Calvados today.

IWEG - WSET Level 1 Award in Spirits

Situated just twenty minutes by car from downtown Deauville, the historic property is being turned into a new tourist site, the “Calvados Experience”, due to open in March 2018 (the distillery manufacturing has been moved elsewhere). This interactive attraction will encompass a large area that includes an orchard and pressing area, aging cellars, tasting bar and shop.

Marie-Anne Saloux, Public Relations Officer with Spirit France Diffusion which owns Maison Père Magloire, is the dynamo in charge of the new site’s development. She spent a day touring me around the Calvados region. www.calvados-pere-magloire.com

We started at Père Magloire’s new production facilities where we met up with Jean-luc Fossey, the Cellar Master. He explained that while there are over 120 apple varieties that can be used to make Calvados, about 30 are most in use today. The important thing is that each of four categories of apples are used in specific proportions: at least 70% bitter and bitter-sweet apples, about 10% acidic apples and only five to ten percent sweet apples. The exact amounts are adjusted each year according to the harvests.PERE MAGLOIRE - TASTING GLASS ON OAK BARREL

After the apples are harvested, they are pressed to exact the juice which is fermented to about six percent alcohol. This fresh cider is then distilled to make the spirit Calvados. About 1000 kg of apples are needed to make 750 to 800 litres of cider, to make 40 to 50 litres of pure alcohol (100%). The actual spirit is drawn out at 70 to 72% alcohol by law and is reduced further while aging in the casks. The spirit is kept a minimum of two to three years in wood before release.

Most aging is in older barrels, often 10 to 20-year-old casks called fûts rouge or red casks, which don’t release much tannins. However lately cellar masters have been experimenting with new oak including that from the Normandy region. Some Calvados may be aged for three months in the new casks. In addition, more middle and fine grain oak is used with a light toast as opposed to the big grain and big burn for Calvados in the past.


According to Fossey and other cellar masters these changes along with improved distillation techniques have improved the profile of Calvados making it much better quality today. From the dozens of products I tasted while there, I heartily agree.

Père Magloire Fine V.S. is two to three-year-old spirit that’s fresh and fruity like crushed apples. Père Magloire V.S.O.P. aged a minimum of four years has good forward fruit with notes of marzipan. Père Magloire Mémoire XO from the Pays d’Auge is double distilled in copper pot stills, and aged from 15 to 40 years.

Père Magloire Calvados Fine V.S.Père Magloire V.S.O.P.Père Magloire Mémoire XO

Calvados has three Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC): Appellation Calvados Contrôlée (created in 1984), Appellation Calvados Pays d’Auge Contrôlée (created in 1942) and Appellation Calvados Domfrontais Contrôlée (created in 1992). Before the AOC’s, there was since 1921, a protection in place for the “eaux-de-vie de cidre”.

The Appellation Calvados Contrôlée is the largest AOC representing about 74% of production. The apples can be collected from the whole Normandy and after crushing and fermenting receive a single distillation in a copper column still. For the AOC Pays d’Auge, which is about 25% of production, the apples are from the small cherished “Pays d’Auge” area within Normandy, and are double distilled in traditional copper pot stills. These first two AOC Calvados must be aged a minimum of two years, though the premium labels are aged much longer.

For the tiny AOC Domfrontais, just 1% of production, apples and pears (30 % minimum) come from Domfrontais region, receive a single distillation in a continuous copper still and are aged at least three years before release.

Boulard Grand Solage Calvados Pays D’augeBoulard Pays D'auge XO CalvadosBoulard Extra

There are about 350 Calvados producers in total though the top 15 own most of the market. The number one exporter to many countries including Canada is Calvados Boulard, a prestigious Pays d’Auge distillery founded in 1825 and now also owned by Spirit France. You’ll find Calvados Boulard Pays d’Auge Grand Solage listed in a number of our provinces. A blend of double distilled Calvados of two to five years age, it’s rich in apple flavour with vanilla notes while smooth and rounded on the palate. Boulard X.O. is a complex Calvados aged a minimum of six years. Boulard Extra Calvados Pays d’Auge a blend of 20 to 40-year-old spirit is pure luxury.  www.calvados-boulard.com

Maison Lecompte is a top Pays d’Auge Calvados that makes amazing products including vintage dated ones and The Secret, crafted from over 100 individual eaux-de-vie including some 1923 from the distillery’s original stock. Lecompte 12-Year-Old is all about fruit and spice. Lecompte 18-Year-Old moves into delicious tarte tatin (apple tart) territory. Lecompte 25-Year-Old displays candied fruit with subtle smoke.  www.calvados-lecompte.com

Lecompte 12 Year OldLecompte 18 Years OldLecompte 25 Year Old

Those lucky enough to live in Quebec have by far the greatest selection of Calvados in stock – about 40 different labels – at the SAQ, many also available online. To taste The Secret and many other well aged expressions of Calvados, you’ll just have to travel to Deauville and surroundings. Nothing shabby about that.


Margaret Swaine

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