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Depending on its AOC appellation, Calvados can be marketed after a minimum aging period of 2 or 3 years in wood vats.
In contact with air, and through the wood of the vat, their alcohol content and their volume gradually decrease by natural evaporation (this is referred to the « angels’ share »).
Calvados is aged in extremely dry oak vats, the contact with wood proffering it with the necessary ele-ments for its perfect maturing. The tannic features of wood give its natural colour, whilst constant exchange between the young brandy, the wood and the air outside offer Calvados its aroma, finesse and fullness.
Certain producers begin by ageing young Calvados in 250 to 600 litre vats made of fresh wood, which has an extremely high tannin content. This proffers the young brandy with colour and nerve, before its transfer into older, sometimes hundred-year-old, tuns.
Other producers prefer to transfer their Calvados directly into previously used 1,000 to 10,000 litre tuns, which ensure both ageing and excellent storage.
Little by little, the aroma of the Calvados intensifies, its colour accentuates, changing from golden to deep amber. The fresh apple aromas, which are characteristic of young Calvados, gradually mature to produce more complex flavours of cooked apples, butter caramel, spices and walnut which combine to offer an exceptional Calvados.
The alcohol reduction and the blending
When Calvados is released to market, its minimum alcohol content is 40% abv. During ageing, evaporation contributes to the progressive reduction of the alcohol level. It varies with storage conditions, but averages 2% per year.
In general, however, this natural loss of alcohol is not sufficient. Pure, distilled, or demineralised water must be added to the eau-de-vie. This operation, called “reduction”, must be progressive and executed in several stages.
Alcohol content influences the ageing process. Therefore, some people prefer eaux-de-vie “reduced” early and then aged.
The cellar master does not content himself with watching his Calvados age. As a genuine alchemist, he sets his skills to concocting a number of blends that associate brandies of different ages in order to associate their complementary qualities. Blending is a delicate operation involving highly skilful tasting in particular, to find the perfect balance between wood and fruit.
Before bottling, these blends are brought to perfection over long months during which their respective boquets intermingle and grow richer.
Some « cask strength » versions of Calvados are unreduced. They benefit from a natural degree obtained by the evaporation of the brandy over time. Directly taken from the top of the barrel, they are bottled most often on demand and offer a nice concentration of aromas.