Calvados, Normandy’s favourite eau de vie, was first made in the early 18th century, and became a booming business when phylloxera knocked out France’s wine harvest in the mid 19th century.
Modern farmers have a choice of some 200 varieties of apples to use, mixing the sweet and the tart. They are first made into a dry cider, and then distilled to make Calvados. It’s the essential ingredient of a trou Normand or a coupe Normande (poured over ice cream).
Three kinds of Calvados are AOP:
Calvados AOP: Made from apples grown all over Normandy; this represents 70% of all the bottles sold.
Calvados Pays d'Auge AOP: Produced in the old region of Pays d'Auge (the departments of Calvados, Orne, and Eure). Calvados Pays d'Auge is the only apple brandy that is double-distilled like Cognac, and is aged for a minimum of two yeas.
Calvados Domfrontais AOP: Calvados made with at least 30% pear eau-de-vie. It is aged for a minimum of three years in oak barrels.
Often Calvados is blended with the eau de vies from previous years, although you will also see some single cask bottles. You may also see:
VS, Trois Étoiles, Trois Pommes: This means the youngest Calvados in a blend has been aged at least two years in oak barrels.
Vieux, Réserve: Barrel-aged for at least three years.
V.O. (Very Old), Vieille Réserve (Old Réserve), V.S.O.P. (Very Superior Old Pale): Aged for at least four years.
Extra, Napoléon, XO (Extra Old), Hors d'Age, Age Inconnu: Aged for at least six years and often more. The older the Calvados is, the less appley it tastes.
Image by Miika Silfverberg from Vantaa, Finland