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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Birthday Booze! Lemorton Domfrontais 35 year old 1978 Calvados

Calvados?  That's a funny name.  What the hell kind of whisky is that?

It's not whisky, actually.  It's a French brandy made from apples and pears which---


Where are you going?

Calvados is good!  Especially in the summer......

Well, it looks like I lost Blue Text on this one.  And probably a few readers who saw the post title and said, "F**k it."

For those of you still reading, I opened my one old bottle of Calvados for my birthday this year.  Balblair out, Lemorton in.  While Calvados isn't inexpensive, it's a hell of a lot cheaper than single malts of comparative ages.  I also did not buy this bottle blindly, since I had the pleasure of attending a brandy tasting led by Charles Neal about a year and a half ago.  The '78 Lemorton Domfrontais was my favorite of all the brandies that night.  Its price was exorbitant so I did not buy it at the time, but in a moment of craziness I bought a bottle in February of this year, for this upcoming birthday.

Some Calvados is distilled from apples, some from both apples and pears.  In the Domfrontais region of Calvados, pear trees thrive due to their affinity for the local soil.  In order for a Calvados to get the "Domfrontais" appellation, its distillate needs to be made from at least 30% pear.  And that distillate must come from a single pass through a column still.  It is then aged in enormous French oak casks.  Due to the size of the massive (sometimes reused) casks aging happens much more gradually than it does with whiskies.  The idea is to let very little oak character get into the mix, thus allowing the distillate itself mature and shine.

I like Calvados a lot, though I'm not an expert on which farms and families turn out the best stuff.  In Calvados, I like the aggression of the essence of the apples, while the palate remains not overly sweet.  It often makes for better summer drinking than most Scotches do.

All I know about Lemorton is what Neal has written about.  The family makes some young Calvados blends, but they also turn out a number of old vintages like this one.  Oh, and their distillate's pear content is 70%.

Type: Brandy
Country: France
Region: Calvados (in Lower Normandy)
Subregion/commune: Domfront, Orne
Family: Lemorton
Distillate: approximately 30% apple / 70% pear
Distillation: once through a column still
Year distilled: 1978
Year bottled: 2013
Alcohol by Volume: 40%

The color is of a dark maple syrup.  The nose has a dense apple center amongst a fluffy pear expanse (this was my third drink of the birthday evening).  The apple and pear come across as baked rather than fresh.  There's a lot of spiciness that I usually don't find in younger Calvados, so perhaps it's from the oak?  Smaller notes of roses, honey, and maple.  The palate has lots of fresh sweet apples at first taste, followed by some tannic dryness.  Ah, now it's applesauce.  Now it's sour apple gum.  Softer notes of grilled pear.  Lots of honey, though.  Hints of mint and cayenne pepper.  With time, the pear notes rise up.  The palate never gets sugary sweet.  More honey in the finish, then fresh pears, apple juice, menthol, and a sprinkle of black pepper.

For most of the experience, the apple content feels two to three times stronger (if that can be quantified) than the pears even though the pears outnumber the apples more than 2:1 in the distillate.  That speaks to the intensity of Calvados's little apples, or the subtlety of their pears.  Or both.

I'll be honest, there's not a hell of a lot of depth in this brandy.  It also feels a bit tight, and only seems to open up after a lot of air.  I'm going to chalk that up to the Top o' the Bottle Blues, since the first pour from a bottle almost always feels reserved and closed up to me.

All of that aside, this is still quite nice.  In the nose, the oak spice walks the starting-to-intrude line, but retreats in the palate in order to let all of the apples roll in.  It makes for great summer sipping, if one is looking for something lighter than Corryvreckan on a late August evening.  Quality-wise it could stand with most starter malts, though it's not going to topple many 35 year old whiskies.  I'm looking forward to finding out what it's like next year when I taste it again.

Availability - A dozen or two retailers in the US and Europe
Pricing - $140-$160
Rating - 85 (my 2015 review drops it to an 84)