Calvados is an apple brandy indigenous to the French region of Lower Normandy (Basse-Normandie).
Apples selected for distillation into Calvados fall into over 200 specially-grown varieties. Several varieties may be used for one brand of Calvados, ranging from very sweet apples to tart and bitter, at various proportions. The fruit is harvested, usually by hand, from mid-October into December and pressed to make a juice which is subsequently fermented into a dry cider.
This cider is then distilled into an eau-de-vie, which is blended and matured for a minimum of two years in casks. The longer the maturation, the more mellow the final product. Usually the maturation for Calvados goes on for several years. There is a range of classifications that can be used by producers, with the age referring to the youngest component of the blend:
Fine, Trois étoiles and Trois pommes for a Calvados matured for at least two years;
Vieux Réserve for one of at least three years in age;
VO, Vieille Réserve or VSOP is at least four years old;
Extra, XO, Napoléon or Hors d'Age is at least six years old.
Much of the Calvados sold is much older, typically six, 12, 18, 15 or 25 years old.
Calvados is governed by an Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée system, which defines the area where Calvados can be produced, the varieties of apples used, the method used for pressing and fermentation, as well as for distillation and maturation. There are three AOCs for Calvados but the basic AOC Calvados accounts for over 70 percent of the total production, prescribing a minimum of two years’ ageing in oak barrels and distillation in single column stills.
The AOC Calvados Pays d'Auge is the highest quality appellation, and includes all the basic rules for AOC Calvados along with several additional requirements – among others, a minimum of six weeks’ fermentation of the cider and double distillation in an alembic still. AOC Calvados Domfrontais, a much fruitier and subtler style which is made with at least 30 percent pears, was created in 1997 in order to accommodate the long tradition of pear orchards in the region.