Also pictured above are the Daron V.S. and Busnel V.S.O.P Calvados' which were the first kinds I've ever tried.
In a Shot: Got some people together and tasted high end Calvados' and each one had a stand out component that made it unique from the others and fantastic.
March 22nd this year brought along an opportunity with fellow Calvados enthusiasts to taste some remarkable, high end X.O/Hors D'Age grade french apple brandies that collectively had the tried and true hard apple cider and oak wood spirit background you expect and love from a Calvados. Individually they each took time to breath and oxidize at different speeds, opening new smells, flavors and sensations as time progressed and each one was incredibly different from one another.
Information online about any of these was a bit taxing and challenging to obtain. Only one was I able to even gather lots of information on (More than I think I ever wanted to know about it.
Ironically, it was the one I brought, the Domaine Dupont Hors d'Age that I was able to find the soil information (Soil and Clay from oxonian) using mainly 30% sweet apples (Rouge Duret), 30% bitter apples (Mettais, Saint Martin, Frequin and Binet Rouge) and 40% of apples with acidity, mainly Rambault. The apples are cropped manually. The spirit is distilled twice and aged between 10 - 12 years in Loire Valley Oak Casks (25% which are new) and is non chill/unfiltered or colored with any dyes or caramels. Whfew! You see? That was me compressing the info and just trying to get it over with! The Dupont of the three was definitely the sweetest and most cordial like of the four being the obvious choice for dessert substitution or after dinner drink. Sweet apples, tea, honey and flowers with sea spray started this number off and ended with a very light and soft finish. Over time flavors of geraniums picked up surprisingly wrapped around what we could only describe as a bannana fosters and salted caramels. Superb!
Andrew brought along the Christian Drouin Hors d'Age. Hands down the slowest one to open up, the woody, smoked apples and spice backed by a dry finish were almost all we could get from this cigar friendly Calvados until an hour or so. After proper oxidation this wonderfully dry spirit started showcasing intense aromas of mint and herbacious notes predominantly fennel and anise. Excellent!
Neil was the provider of the Boulard Calvados X.O. and was the only bottle that physically stated it was an X.O (though Hors d'Age is the exact same class). A blend of Calvados varieties aged between 8 and 15 years or more averaging around 12 years. This blend brings out a very interesting composition of ripe apples and grilled almonds. The oxidation brought out stronge candied/salty notes with orange, vanilla and cooked breads (a serious ode to an orange and almond french toast breakfast). Absolutely divine!
The final Pays d'Age was brought by another John. It's VSOP is what inspired me to do this tasting to begin with and was hands down the one I was most excited about and had the highest hopes and anticipations for. Busnel Calvados Hors d'Age is bottled at Cormeilles and is aged between 12 to 15 years. This was without question the richest and most full bodied of the four XO's brought to the table. Baked apples and caramel sauce was the encompassing circle that was backed after oxidation with sea spray bathed in oak, toffee notes and velvety chocolate. The finish was very rich and intense with prodominant caramel, chocolaate and apple notes.
After doing this XO Calvados tasting my conclusion is: The prices mary be high for the bulk of these high end French apple brandies and even if you've never heard of it, the chances will be that you will fall in love with any of these outrageously smooth and sophisticated bottles within the first tasting. What was most interesting is that though there were some characteristically obvious notes with each Calvados, the liqour took on such different dimensions and turns within the hour of being poured that everyone had a different opinion of what they tasted like. Chances are that the next time I open my Domaine Dupont Hors d'Age, I will taste and smell something completely different from the first time. It is just that complex. Beautiful X.O.'s that I will always keep at least one in my bar here on out. My ranking for preferance is as follows:
4. Christian Drouin Hors d'Age - Fantastic as a stand alone Calvados, this slow opener boasts woody dry apples, spices and herbacious qualities that are very interesting and over time developed into a winner. I enjoyed this one so much. It made me wish I had a cigar.
3. Boulard Calvados X.O. Pays d'Auge - The ripe apples and grilled almonds being the star show case here backed with that surprising orange zest, vanilla and almond french toast breakfast was so delightful and would be a perfect end to any dinner.
2. Domaine Dupont Hors d'Age - This would probably be the Calvados I'd introduce the X.O. ranking to as it is just so light and innocent with it's sea spray and sweet apples with that wonderful after dinner tea and honey composition. The really mouth shocking dessert notes of salted caramels and bannana fosters though was the major swing of votes for me. It was just such a great finish and a definite triumph in my opinion.
1. Busnel Calvados Hors d'Age - Big, round, robust, intense and rich. This Calvados is the largest of the bunch with a caramel like sweetness surrounded by the toffee and the chocolate with a huge baked apple start, middle and end that gives this XO the champion contender quality. Best of it's class in my humble opinion.
Order online, go to a specialty liqour store in Washington DC or see what your local ABC store can order for you and pick up at least one bottle of XO/Hors d'Age Calvados to have in your house and ready for next fall.