Scientists have produced an artificial tasting tongue. It is made from sub-microscopic slices of gold and aluminium which create ‘tastebuds’ that are around 500 times smaller than the human equivalent. Subtle differences in how the metals absorb light allow the ‘tongue’ to identify individual spirits with more than 99% accuracy. Picking up differences in complex chemical mixtures, sometimes resulting from barrel type and length of maturation, it is hoped that the ‘tongue’ will be used to identify counterfeit products. Artificial tongues have been produced before, but this is the first time that two different types of nanoscale metal ‘tastebuds’ have been used so the results are faster and more accurate. So, is this a threat to our industry’s sommeliers? Perhaps not. It may well be more sensitive than the most highly tuned palates, but it cannot describe taste nor identify balance, skills which we specialise in here at Hermitage Cognacs. Those skills are of course subjective but put together with experience and knowledge of the marketplace our sommeliers and competition judges are certainly not out of a job yet. However, those who choose to undermine the industry by flooding the market with fake goods should take note.
Scottish whisky blender, Compass Box, has released a new spirit drink comprising calvados & whisky. The calvados, from the Christian Drouin distillery, has been blended with whiskies aged in French oak casks and Sherry butts. Compass Box’s founder said “We have been blending calvados and Scotch whisky at home for years, enchanted by their complementary qualities. Although one of the world’s greatest spirits, calvados is also one of the most underappreciated”. The result is said to possess ‘layers of apple character married beautifully with malty, vanilla and spice-like notes’. Compass Box is not the only firm to recognise the success of this flavour combination, though. Sweden’s Mackmyra distillery has just released a single malt whisky, finished in ex-calvados casks. Perhaps such ideas will help calvados get the appreciation it so deserves?
In many ways calvados is the newest brandy of France. It only became recognised as such in 1942 when the appellation controleé regulations officially gave calvados a protected name. The area around the Valley d’Auge and the land extending east past Lisieux became the principle production area. Here, the Jurassic limestone soil is ideal for growing the various apples required to make calvados.
A range of different apples are used initially to create the finest cider - bitter, bitter sweet, acidic and sweet. These apples have low levels of acidity so a small, firm, Perry pear is also added. This addition, usually 12 – 15 % of the total, is essential as it increases the acidity of the cider to the level required for distillation. Consequently, calvados can often have a pear drop taste which many people dislike.
Of course, the flavour of calvados from each distiller will differ. The distillation techniques, apple varieties, condition of apples when harvested and ageing process will all have an effect. Sometimes a finish is also added. This term describes a process where, in the latter stages of ageing, calvados is stored for a limited period in a barrel that has previously held another spirit or wine. However, many producers find this technique abhorrent as it masks the true identity of their spirit.
The pear drop aroma and taste is most noticeable in young calvados. With long barrel ageing it is significantly reduced because the calvados builds a richness which masks the pungency of the Perry pear. One of the best examples of this is the 1969 vintage by Dupont, a firm that has worked hard to nurture quality in their fine spirits.
The firm of Chateau du Breuil has developed a different method of masking the pear drop effect. They only harvest naturally fallen apples which have started to go brown. At this stage the water content of the apple has dropped and the sugar content is at its highest. These apples produce a sweeter cider and ultimately a sweeter calvados with baked apple aromas and flavours. The period required to age in the barrel for the flavours to mature is therefore reduced. A fine example of this type of calvados is the Chateau du Breuil 15 Year Old.