National Calvados Week – Cocktails with… Pere Magloire VSOP

This week is National Calvados Week and, to my mind, it is perfect timing. This aged apple brandy from Normandy is one of my favourite Autumnal drinks; still fruity, but warming as the nights start to draw in.

www.nationalcalvadosweek.com

For our part, we shall be writing a little introduction to Calvados and having a closer look at Pere Magloire VSOP.

PereMagloire VSOP Calvados

What is Calvados?

Calvados is a brandy, but instead of being made from fermented and distilled grapes (as many other French brandies are), it is made from apples; in essence, it is the result of distilling cider. The region where Calvados is made in Normandy, Northern France is also known for the quality of their cider, so it makes sense that distilled products based on this are of such a high quality.

Calvados has an appellation contrôlée, which means that it can only be made in a certain area of France and strict rules govern its production. For example, all Calvados must be aged for a minimum of 2 years in oak casks.

Pere Magloire is a Calvados Pays D’Auge, which means that is subject to even more regulation than regular Calvados; it has to be made in the Eastern part of the Calvados region. Pere Magloire is made in the village of Pont l’Eveque. In addition to the rules defining Calvados AOC, Calvados Pays D’Auge must be made from cider that has fermented for at least 6 weeks and must also be distilled twice (double distillation). In the theory of distilling, the longer fermentation (consuming more sugars) and the double distillation should lead to a cleaner, dryer, smoother, and higher quality spirit.

So what does it taste like?

On its own

Nose: Fantastic – very engaging and enticing; rich apples with just a hint of acidity, reminding me of refreshing, still cider. Also, hints of spice and vanilla.

Taste: A well-rounded spirit and one that leads on well from the nose. Dry, crisp apple with a little sweetness in the middle, along with hints of toffee, caramel, cinnamon and nutmeg, which provide an impression of spiced baked apple. It has a warming finish, but no burn; as you continue to sip, a pleasant, cosy warmth builds in the chest. Just what you need on a cold, rainy day.

PereMagloire VSOP Calvados collins

Calvados Collins

25ml Calvados, 25ml Lemon Juice, 25ml Sugar Syrup, 150ml Soda Water. Add the ingredients to a hi-ball glass with ice.

Tart and refreshing, with the lemon juice bringing out the dryer, crisper notes of the Calvados and the sugar adding some balance. This would make a pretty lovely dinner drink or something to enjoy in the afternoon, catching the last sunny hours before winter. For an extra touch of indulgence, replace the sugar syrup with honey.

Calvados & Ginger Ale

50ml Calvados, 150ml Dry Ginger Ale, Ice. Add the ingredients to a hi-ball glass with ice (lemon wedge optional).

An inviting nose of apple and ginger, that is also quite fresh. In terms of taste, the drink is light and refreshing, with some sweetness; if you prefer a slightly dryer or tarter drink, a quick squeeze of a lemon wedge should do the trick.

PereMagloire VSOP Calvados Manhattan

Calvados Manhattan

50ml Calvados, 25ml Red Vermouth – stir & serve in a cocktail glass.

A wonderfully complex cocktail, equal to many of the whiskey-based varieties. It has a lovely, red-gold colour and an initial flavour of the fruity, slightly tart apples that is followed by rich herbal notes and a little sweetness. The warming nature of the Calvados presents itself on the finish, as well as a note of dry apple.

PereMagloire VSOP Calvados OldFashioned

Calvados Old Fashioned

Take a tumbler/old fashioned glass, add a sugar cube, bitters and a little water, and muddle the cube until the sugar has dissolved. Add 50ml Calvados. Stir gently with ice and strain into another pre-chilled Old Fashioned Glass.

A thick and viscous drink, with the bitters bringing out some of the more delicate, sweet spiced notes of the Calvados. A drink well-suited for after dinner, as an alternative to savouring a brandy balloon of the spirit; there’s a liveliness to the flavours, which will keep you engaged for the evening ahead of you.

In Conclusion

I really enjoyed experimenting with Pere Magloire VSOP Calvados and found that it worked equally well on its own and in mixed drinks; it has the character to be mixed, but the smoothness and complexity to be savoured on its own. Of all of the cocktails that I tried, I’d say my favourite was the Calvados Manhattan, but, personally, give me a glass of the spirit on its own and I’ll be more than happy.

Pere Magloire VSOP Calvados is available for £25.86 for 70cl from The Drink Shop this is a special price for National Calvados Week.

 

Cocktails with… Courvoisier VSOP

Back in August of last year, I experienced my first Cognac tasting. Today, I want to take a look at Courvoisier VSOP. This is the next step up from their VS, which I tried last time, and is a blend of Cognacs between four and ten years old. In addition, the term “Fine Champagne” on the bottle indicates that at least half of the crus used to make it are from the Grande Champagne region specifically.

The label is decked out in a rather fine, decadent blue, and may be familiar to some as the bottle proudly presented on the desk of Ralph Fiennes’ character, Mallory, in the latest James Bond film, Skyfall. He and M discuss weighty matters over a glass; and, given how much I enjoyed M’s whisky choices from that film, I’m looking forward to trying this.

Courvoisier VSOP Cognac

On its own
Nose: Vibrant, sharp grape to start, like a very good, dry sherry, but, after a while, this softens. Additional notes of caramelised apple, like a sticky, freshly-made toffee apple, then come into play.
Taste: Smooth, but full of flavour, with dry grape at the start quickly opening up with lots of lighter floral notes, reminding me of summer days in the garden; hints of rose, with a slight leafiness and the subtle sweetness of apricot jam. A light finish of white wine, dried apricots and vanilla. A light, pleasant warmth on the finish.

Sidecar
Rich and complex start, with lots of apricot and white grape, but mixed in with a richness that you’d get from red grape,  raspberries and blackberries. A more complex, warming finish, with vanilla, oak and a fresh note of sherbety lemon that lifts the drink.

Sazerac
Lovely, inescapable sweet anise notes on the nose. Pleasantly not too sweet to taste, though, with a far more subtle note of soft liquorice to start, followed by a measured, but surprisingly flavourful interplay between the notes of the anise and rich, sweet fruit. Quite short overall, but an intense drink; perfect for mid-evening.

In Conclusion
Without a doubt, Courvoisier VSOP is currently my favourite Cognac. I love the combination of the subtlety of the start and the rich, but measured fruit notes afterwards (especially the apricot on the finish – lovely!). I  was also impressed at how it worked in cocktails, in particular the Sazerac. I think my favourite way to drink it is on it’s own, though; this may just be the Cognac that persuades me to drink it on a regular basis!
– Mrs. B.

An Introduction to Armagnac with Comte de Lauvia VSOP


Back in August, I had my first Cognac tasting and, today, I’m going to be trying its older cousin, Armagnac. Like Cognac, this is a spirit that I don’t usually find to be very visible in bars, although we know a couple of fans who have inspired me to give it a try.

Armagnac is a type of grape brandy or distilled wine made from grapes from a very specific region in the south of France. This wine is then distilled (traditionally only once) in column stills and left to mature in oak barrels until it reaches the desired strength. It’s then kept in glass jars until it is ready to be bottled or blended.*

Armagnac is sold under a variety of labels or grades: blends can use a label based upon the length of time that its youngest  component has spent in wood:

– VS (“Very Special” or three stars) – at least two years;
– VSOP (“Very Special Old Pale”) – at least five years;
– XO (“Extra Old”) – at least six years; and
– Hors d’âge – at least ten years.

Older bottlings tend to contain Armagnacs from a single year or vintage, which is given on the label instead.

The Armagnac that I’m looking at today is Comte de Lauvia VSOP; a blend of Armagnacs from the village of Eaux in the Bas-Armagnac region of France, the youngest of which has been aged for at least eight years. I tried it both on its own and in a variety of cocktails, very kindly mixed for me by DTS.

#1) On its own
Nose: Fresh and vibrant. Initially full of sweet wood and varnish, this gradually gives way to softer, fruity notes of white grapes and a warm sweetness, like spiced, stewed peaches. It ends with a hint of marzipan. You might miss all of these notes if you were put off by the initial burst of varnish, but there’s a lot more to it than that.
Taste: This packs a fine punch, indeed; it has a powerful flavour unlike anything I’ve tried before. It starts off sweet and soft, with hints of grape and vanilla that are intermingled with darker, sweeter woody notes (like a whisky with strong fruit cake flavours), but this quickly develops into a sharper, more bitter and refreshing finish of fresh, white wood.

#2) Sidecar
Initially, this reminds me of lemon sherbet, but any thoughts of this are swiftly swept away by rich, sweet (but not sickly) notes of lemon and orange fondant. These notes, which are more weighty than those in Sidecar’s that I’ve had made with Cognac, are quickly followed by richer notes of grapes, warm orange and fruit cake. The finish is more measured, with the lighter, sharper grape notes and oak coming through, along with a pleasant warmth and a final, brief burst of fresh citrus. Different, but delicious.

#3) Manhattan
Smooth and tasty; this has an initial, viscous burst of sweet, red fruits and more delicate hints of warm spices, like cinnamon, before the more bitter, almost slightly sour, notes of grapes come through. The finish is light, but lasting, and is a subtle combination of almonds and orange pith.

#4) Old Fashioned
Sweeter than the previous cocktails, with more notes reminiscent of Christmas cake: cinnamon, cloves, and allspice, along with lemon and orange. There’s a more perfumed note in the middle, followed by a sweet finish of cinnamon.

#5) Fine à l’eau
This is a Cognac cocktail that was popular in France up until the end of the Second World War; in the book Casino Royale, James Bond orders one for his ally, Mathis.
The recipe is very simple:
3 parts Water
1 part Cognac or, in our case, Armagnac

A much lighter way to enjoy this Armagnac: the water makes this much smoother so that, at least initially, it tastes like a very light whisky or bourbon, with vanilla and wood being the predominant flavours. The finish is then more bitter, with the fruitier aspects of the spirit coming through; mainly grape, with a herbal bitterness at the very end. I was impressed at how well the flavours stood-up to water being added.

In Conclusion
I have to admit that Comte de Lauvia VSOP was not what I had been expecting. Its flavour was stronger and more distinctive than the Cognacs that I’ve tried, with sweeter, woody notes to start, followed by more bitter, fruity notes towards the end. Although the flavours developed much quicker than whisky – my usual tipple of choice – they emphasised different notes; as such, I found that it worked very well to bring out new sides to familiar cocktails, like the Sidecar and the Old Fashioned, which were my favourites of those that we tried. The Sidecar, especially, was excellent.

I was also surprised at how much I enjoyed drinking this simply with water. Bringing the strength down to the level of wine produced a tasty drink that had all of the woody and fruity elements of the spirit at 40%ABV, but in a lighter style. I can imagine this being a perfect, light drink when summer returns!

For now, though, I will be more than content with an Armagnac Sidecar. Or two!

– Mrs. B

Comte de Lauvia VSOP Armagnac is available for around £17 for 50cl from Sainsbury’s Supermarkets or online (in 70cl bottles) at TheDrinkShop.com.

* In comparison, Cognac has to be distilled at least twice and is distilled using pot stills. The grapes also come from a different region.

Cognac Cocktails with De Luze VSOP

I was recently lucky enough to find a bottle of De Luze VSOP Cognac in my possession and so thought I’d look at making some high-end Cognac cocktails.

Sidecar with De Luze VSOP cognac

First, here’s a little about the history behind this Cognac. In 1822, Baron Alfred De Luze founded a company that went onto purchase vineyards in Grande Champagne and Margaux; areas well-known for the quality of grapes produced there. This must have come through in the quality of their Cognac, because De Luze were granted the Royal Warrant by King Christian X of Denmark in 1927. More recently, in 2006, De Luze were bought by the Boinaud Family, which is the largest private wine growers of the Cognac Appellation (the region in France where wines used to produce Cognac must come from).

A Fine Champagne Cognac must have at least half of its Cognacs originating from the Grande Champagne region, specifically, but De Luze VSOP Fine Champagne is a blend with over 70% from this region. They are all between 10 and 12 years of age, with the oldest, according to the website, coming from the 1989 harvest.

So how does it taste?

Own
Smooth and flavourful, this has a rich and complex taste with a hint of crème brûlée and dried fruit, as well as some deeper notes, such as dark chocolate and cinnamon. This is definitely something that’s easy to sip and savour over an evening.

Sidecar
This was a superb drink: clean, crisp and tart. It was very fresh and the strong flavours of the Cognac come through, whilst remaining smooth. The drink remains vibrant, but well-rounded, with its sharpness offsetting the alcohol.

Sazerac with De Luze VSOP Cognac

Sazerac
Superb! Exceptionally smooth and mellow, with complex herbal notes, anise and a touch of vanilla at the end. It also had a great balance of warmth and refreshment, providing a drink that you can really just sink into, without being too heavy. The comforting finish ended with  a hint of ginger warmth, reminding me of a long, relaxing bath.

Thoroughbred
This is a fancy Horse’s Neck, made using Cognac instead of brandy and a high-end (imported, ooh la la!) ginger ale. Notably, Q-Ginger, from the folks that brought us Q-Tonic. This made yet another superb drink, being both complex and refreshing. The full flavour of the Cognac comes through, followed by citrus and a sweet, fruity zing. I found it to be less sweet and more sophisticated than a usual Horse’s Neck. Very classy.

Thoroughbred (Horse's Neck) with De Luze VSOP Cognac and Q Ginger Ale

Thoroughbred (Horse's Neck) with De Luze VSOP Cognac and Q Ginger Ale

Stinger
This is a cloudy light brown mixture, with the flavour of dark sugar and a menthol note at the end. As you drink it, it begins to clear in the glass and the flavours of the Cognac become more prominent, with the mint flavour taking a back seat. This a crisp and refreshing cocktail and a great alternative to an after dinner mint. I can see why James Bond enjoys it with coffee in ‘Diamonds are Forever’ (at the 21 Club in New York).

In Conclusion

Cognac is an excellent base for certain cocktails and is always worth considering when you want a drink where you can appreciate the underlying flavours. The Sidecar as always been a favourite of mine and I think it always will be. That said I love the Thoroughbred too!