Don’t call it apple brandy: It’s Calvados, the most exclusive of apple-based spirits and the only fruit brandy with a serious pedigree. Created by a family-owned estate of 25 hectares of apple trees (17 varieties are grown here) in France’s Pays d’Auge, on the banks of the Seine River, this French classic is making its way to the U.S. for the first time, with a staggering selection of expressions available… suitable for any price point. Apreval’s Calvados brandies are double-distilled, then aged in French oak barrels.
We got to to try them all… nine expressions of Calvados in total, ranging from a two-year old youngster to varieties aged nearly half a century (and priced as you’d expect). So, how do they acquit themselves? Thoughts follow, ordered from youngest to oldest.
Manoir d’Apreval Calvados Blanche – Aged 2-3 years. Crisp apple aroma, but there’s plenty of heat here as well. The body offers tart apple (think Granny Smith), lemon peel, some floral elements, and a touch of wood on the back end. Rustic, almost pastoral. This is clearly young stuff, particularly on the slightly rubbery and lightly vegetal finish, but it still drinks well. I’d consider it primarily for cocktailing, sipping neat in a pinch. 80 proof. B / $55
Manoir d’Apreval Calvados Reserve – Aged 4-6 years. Slightly nutty, almost Amaretto-like, on the nose, with clear apple cider coming through behind. A clearly stronger wood influence lends this Calvados a bigger and bolder body, with a rounded mouthfeel and stronger vanilla notes on the palate. The finish is still a little tough, though the more vegetal notes have started to balance out with the sweet ones. 84 proof. B+ / $67
Manoir d’Apreval Calvados Grande Reserve – Aged 10-12 years. The nose is mellowing out here, with more of an applesauce and gentle honey character to it. The body offers strong apple flavors, balanced by hazelnuts, chocolate, and a light herbal quality. Good balance, with a bit heat on the back end. It’s definitely a Calvados I’d have no trouble sipping on, offering the best of both the orchard and the world of brandy. 84 proof. A- / $92
Manoir d’Apreval Calvados XO – Aged 15-20 years, noticeably darker in color (from here on out). Becoming increasingly Cognac-like on the nose, with sweet caramel, gingerbread, and incense notes… but still those unmistakable apples shining through beautifully. Robust on the body, with thick cinnamon-apple notes and a big Christmas cake character that lasts for a long while. The finish builds dramatically to something that is both sweet with notes of cake frosting, and savory, with a woody, almost earthy conclusion. Lots going on here, and probably my favorite expression in this lineup. 84 proof. A- / $134
Manoir d’Apreval Calvados 1980 – Single-vintage (harvest?) brandy from 1980, 33 years old. Just imagine, when these apples were picked, Jimmy Carter was President. Sultry nose, with a slight licorice note to it, along with ample wood. The body is vast, with the wood notes taking center stage.There’s even a touch of astringency here, as the deep oak character muscles aside the fruity apple cider core from time to time. Intriguing but a much different animal than the XO. Try the two side by side for a real mindbender. 84 proof. A- / $230
Manoir d’Apreval Calvados Cuvee Victor – A blend of brandies, each at least 30 years old. Coffee and licorice notes on the nose lend this a Spanish brandy feel. There’s lots of dried fruit — not just apples but raisins, too — on the palate, but the finish takes things toward a winey character, almost like a Marsala, with some balsamic touches. Quite the curiosity — rich and austere. 82 proof. A- / $283
Manoir d’Apreval Calvados Cuvee Gustave – A blend of brandies, each at least 40 years old. Dense coffee, mixed nuts, and dark chocolate notes. You won’t catch much more than a bare whiff of apple character on the nose, but it comes across on the body — dried, baked, then chocolate-covered and baked into an almond torte. Another intriguing, hoary, and unexpected spirit. 82 proof. A- / $356
Manoir d’Apreval Calvados Brut de Fut 1974 – Single-vintage Calvados from 1974, 39 years old. Stronger apple character here than in some of the other old expressions, with a distinct vegetal note on the nose. Spicy on the palate, with some cinnamon notes, but also a tougher, more rubbery finish. Not as successful as the blends. This is no longer in production. 84 proof. B / $NA
Manoir d’Apreval Calvados Brut de Fut 1967 – Single-vintage Calvados from 1967, 44 years old (bottled 2011). This is a bit of an anomaly. This is a 44-year old 1967, bottled two years ago. It’s no longer on the market, but a 46-year-old version of the same spirit, bottled 2013, is available. Since this version spent 2 years less in cask, it’s not going to be identical to the new bottling, but it should be in the vicinity (the proof level may differ, also). A much hotter spirit, it’s got a more alcoholic nose that mutes some of the fruit from the start. The palate offers heavily woody notes with touches of mint, with a big lush apple in the core (ahem) of the brandy. But that that tough and tannic finish creeps in as the body begins to fade, dulling the fruit. 102 proof. B+ / $650 (current version)