Tag Archives: Normandy

A tipple of apple

12 Dec
Domaine du Coquerel

Domaine du Coquerel

Before I discovered Calvados, I thought the main way to have apples alcoholised was in cider.

I enjoy cider a lot, having family in Herefordshire – one of the main cider producing regions of the UK. I can even remember taking illicit sips from a cup of the sweet staple Strongbow as a kid. My taste buds have moved on from the very sugary brand onto drier, more farmhouse style ciders, like those from Gwatkin.

But during a recent trip to France with the boy, I discovered I quite like what happens when apples get much more alcoholised and turn into calvados.

Luckily, the boy’s family live in Normandy – the region where calvados has been produced for centuries. We headed off to award-winning Domaine du Coquerel, a small independent producer in France. It was started in 1937 by Rene Gilbert and was, at one stage, owned by the Guinness group, before Jean Francois Martin, the owner, gave up his job working at Diageo to buy out the company in 1996.

Casks with aging calvados.

Casks with aging calvados.

Everything is done on-site at Domaine du Coquerel as we discovered during a walk around the premises, which features a huge, stone chateau and large sweeping grounds looking out to the countryside of Normandy. Each year, between 5,000-6,000 tonnes of 55 different varieties of apples are brought to the distillery, all collected within 15km, making it truly a local business.

The apples are then fermented (pips and all) in vats for at least one month, after which it can be called cider. Afterwords, that fermented juice is distilled in copper column stills, allowing for a much more alcoholic spirit. The spirit is reduced to 40-42% before it is put into white oak ex-Cognac casks for aging which are managed by the distillery’s cellar master who has worked for the company for 30 years.

Jean Francois Martin, the owner.

Jean Francois Martin, the owner.

Like Cognac, Calvados is bottled at varying ages with different ‘age statements’. In its case, the ‘Fine’ label indicates it’s two years at least, the ‘Vieux’ is a minimum of three years, while the ‘VSOP’ label equates to four years of aging and the ‘XO’ to eight years (although it will include a blend of 8, 10 and 15 year old Calvados).

A tipple of apple.

A tipple of apple.

Domaine du Coquerel is considered a small, independent producer, but still makes around one million bottles a year, 50% of which is exported. It has recently been given a gold medal at the World Spirit Awards for both its ‘Fine’ and ‘XO’ bottlings.

We tried a variety after our tour and during our discussion with Jean. My favourite was the youngest one, the Fine. While the others were very tasty, they verged too much into whisky territory, with loads of vanilla and oak influence. I preferred the slightly more acidic, heavy apple end of the younger style. The boy agreed, and we ended up with a bottle for our drinks shelf. And a realisation that highly alcoholised apples are rather pleasurable to sip on!

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A lakeside walk in Normandy

6 Jan

When a good chunk of people think of Normandy – the most northern territory in France – images of the World War II D-Day invasion almost inevitably spring to mind. Or, for my Canadian friends, the failed Dieppe raid, in which so many of our servicemen perished in the Canadian/British invasion.

But, to me, Normandy has come to symbolise so many more things: a very particular red colour of hair that many of the, ahem, upper middle-aged ladies love to sport; summer festivals, such as the fete in Vire where the townsfolk line the streets and watch the supremely decorated floats parade past; the bizarre junk sales in fields that attract an incomprehensible number of locals (despite an oft-overwhelming scent of cow dung); Calvados – in its legal and bootlegged versions; and, beautiful, sprawling lands that remind me how vast most other countries outside of England really are. There’s also the “Normandy stare” – a phrase coined by the boy’s step-father to describe the hard, penetrating looks the locals tend to give to anyone they may not know straight off – don’t worry; if you see it, it’s done in curiosity, not hostility.

A woman in a sombrero & a tractor: all normal at at a village junk sale; while (photo right) shows one of the fantastic floats used in the annual Vire Fete.

I tend to head to Normandy a few times a year, given half of the boy’s family live there now. It is a pleasant and relaxing part of the world, with little hustle & bustle – a far cry from London life.

But it was on our latest trip over that I discovered a beautiful, hidden gem of a place: Lake Dathée (or Lac de la Dathée en Francais). I had heard for years about the man-made lake (done to provide more water to the locals) from the boy’s family, but the weather or something else had never been quite right for us to make it there. Five miles southeast of the small town of Vire , the lake is a bit off the beaten path for anyone taking a quick trip through Normandy. But it is here that you will see eager locals out for an early 3.8-mile walk, or encounter cyclists getting away from the crowds of more populated areas of France. It is also an ornithological reserve and offers canoe rentals in summer.

So, on a sunny day we headed out to the lake to walk the dogs and spent much of our time gaping at the beautiful reflections in the mill pond-like water, which I couldn’t help but post.

The breathtaking reflections that greeted us...

Which only just continued...

And made us wonder where the road and lake, each began and ended...

A great day for some eager dogs (and the boy) to blow off some steam

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