Domaine Hubert, (Calvados)

Domaine Hubert, Calvados; K&L
As I said on July 1, I am very new to Calvados. As such even though I’ve already made disclaimers about the nature of my Calvados reviews (there’ll be at least three this month), I’m going to make them again.

In brief, I am the furthest thing from an expert on Calvados. I am also pretty far from being an expert on Scotch whisky but in that case I know a decent amount about the history of Scotch whisky; I know quite a bit about different styles of Scotch whisky and the likely effects of variables in the production process; I know a fair bit about a bunch of the major distilleries and the profiles they’ve produced over time; and I certainly know when a whisky has flaws (whether it overcomes them or not) and when it has achieved very desirable characteristics. In the case of Calvados, I currently know only whether the one I am drinking appeals to me. And since my palate is conditioned by single malt whisky (which is also very relevant to my reviews of American whiskey) it may well be the case that what appeals or doesn’t appeal to me about a particular Calvados may have little relationship to the qualities looked for or scorned by connoisseurs of Calvados. (Among other things, I also don’t know what the plural of Calvados is: one Calvados, two Calvadoses? Calvadosi? Calvadeaux?) 

You may in all fairness ask why then I am bothering with reviewing any Calvados at all. Well, partly because I am a narcissistic blogger who thinks all his experiences are worth recording and partly because I think these naive reviews may well be of use to other people. Not, experienced Calvados drinkers, mind (for all the reasons above) but other whisky drinkers like myself who are new to Calvados, especially those in the US. There’s a fairly random selection of Calvados available across the country and not very much information on most of them—if there are dedicated Calvados forums and blogs I haven’t found them. While I will not be able to give you anything approaching an authoritative guide to which the best or avoidable bottles are, my responses may give you some sense of whether a particular Calvados might appeal more or less to your own whisky drinker’s nose and palate. And who knows, I might actually develop a better appreciation for the category on its own terms as I go (and I’ll be placing my order for Charles Neal’s magisterial survey of the subject, Calvados: The Spirit of Normandy right after I publish this post). In the meantime, if there are actual experts or just more experienced people reading, I’ll invite you to supplement my comments and correct my misapprehensions.

No vintage stated on the neck.

No vintage stated on the neck.

Okay, on to the first of my reviews. This Domaine Hubert was bottled for K&L in California. I chose it as my first review because they have a lot of it still available, it’s reasonably priced ($30), and it was described in terms that made it sound quintessential. Of course, to that last point, this is K&L we’re talking about—they’ve never bottled anything that wasn’t the best and/or best value of its kind, at least in terms of their marketing copy—and reality is often a slightly different matter. In this case, problems began before I’d finished my first pour.

You see, K&L first bottled Domaine Hubert Calvados in 2014. That lot was from the 2006 vintage and was said to be six years old. When I purchased this bottle they had the picture and description of that 2006 vintage bottle on their site. What showed up, however, was a bottle without the vintage stated on the neck, and when I nosed and tasted it it seemed quite young to me. After some back and forth on Twitter with David Othenin-Girard (the K&L David who is not always selling something), it emerged that this is from a later batch and that they just bottle new batches when they need them. He said they were still all six years old, but again there’s no statement to that effect on the label (and it’s not stated in the listing on their website either). He updated the picture on the website to that of the current bottle and said there was no need to amend the text as it pretty well described the current batch. On the one hand, fair enough, I suppose: we don’t expect stores to update the description of every batch of Lagavulin 16 or note that they are different batches; on the other hand, we’ve come to expect a certain consistency from Lagavulin 16, and I’m not sure that K&L fill me with that same confidence.

No age or age category indicated on the front label...

No age or broad age category indicated on the front label…

As it happens, I sent a sample from my bottle to Florin (The Man Without a Face); he had raved about that original 2006 Hubert and couldn’t believe the new one could be as far away from his experience of it as my initial responses suggested. He only received the sample before leaving on vacation and so hasn’t sent me detailed notes yet, but he did indicate that he’d taken a few sniffs and sips and thought it was a pale shadow of the original. Make of that what you will. (He will also be sending me a sample of the original 2006 vintage and I’ll taste that blind along with this one in August sometime.) I’ll also note that K&L list this as “Pays D’Auge Vieux Calvados”. Assuming that “Vieux” here refers to the age category and not the specific region, this only guarantees that it is at least three years old. If it were indeed six years old I’m not sure why they wouldn’t use a higher category (Hors d’Age or X.O, for example; even V.S.O.P is a higher age grade).

Okay, on to the review. (Domaine Hubert, by the way, is from the Pays D’Auge, the pre-eminent Calvados AOC—as per Charles Neal, Calvados from the Pays D’Auge is double-distilled and is mostly made only from apples.)

Domaine Hubert, Calvados (42%; Pays D’Auge; bottled for K&L; from my own bottle)

Nose: Bright green apple notes, tart and acidic, turning cider’ish as it goes. There’s also, unfortunately, a grassiness and a raw, spirity note that speaks of youth. Gets a bit sweeter as it sits with some vanilla and slightly muskier apple.

Or on the back label.

Or on the back label.

Palate: Thin, sharp arrival with not much of interest at first; the apple notes appear after a couple of beats but so does the spirity quality. The texture is too watery. No development of any kind to speak of, except that the rooty notes from the finish start showing up earlier and earlier.

Finish: Medium. Gets sharper here and also more rooty and herbal. Seems really young here with mezcal’ish notes.

Comments: The nose is the best part. On the whole, it is drinkable enough but this is far from the Calvados that will turn whisky drinkers onto a new category. I know K&L says this is six years old, but between the lack of an age or vintage on the label and the effect on the palate I’d easily believe it younger. At any rate it doesn’t taste as mature as another allegedly six year old Calvados they carry—that one’s a bit more expensive but far worth the slight premium in my opinion (review coming soon). I’m tempted to use most of the rest of this bottle in cocktails.

Rating: 75 points.

10 thoughts on “Domaine Hubert, (Calvados)

  1. Great review! I think your perspective on Calvados as a whisky drinker is in many ways more helpful to your whisky-loving readers than would be the perspective a Calvados expert.

    I had the first batch of this Domaine Hubert (the one with the “2006” vintage sticker) and thought it was mediocre. I don’t have great tasting notes from that bottle but I did write this to someone inquiring about it on straightbourbon.com: “Good apple aromas and decent flavors but it has some spiritous edges that strike me as peculiar. I have to admit that the price is definitely good for a ~7yo calvados at $30 though. If you give this a shot and it’s not your thing, don’t give up on calvados altogether. I love calvados but again, I find this to be ok.” The “spiritous edges” I mention were harsh and weird to the point of being offensive, and were unlike those in other young Calvados I’ve had. When the other flavors present are good and strong enough to balance out the raw spirit flavors/aromas, young Calvados can have a very satisfying rustic quality that I haven’t experienced with anything else. The newer K&L exclusive Calvados from Domaine Pacory does a much better job of attaining this balance and I recommend it over the Hubert. There are only a few bottles of it left though.

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    • My review of the Pacory—I got a sample from Sku—is coming soon (I did like it a lot more).

      I don’t want to speak for Sku, but I gave him a sample of this Hubert and I think he agrees in general with my take on it (though I think he might like it just a little bit more).

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  2. I’m the biggest fan of Domaine Hubert 2006 that I know, and I really like Calvados. My bias is towards those with a strong, clean apple flavor, which means that generally speaking I prefer the younger to the older; Pays d’Auge (apples, double-distilled in pot stills) to Domfrontais (lots of pears, column stills); stronger to 40% (duh), and farm producers to the large producers/buyers/blenders. I’m disclosing my personal preferences, since they may differ from other people’s. The DH2006 has an intense apple flavor that I love. I’m looking forward to making a fair comparison to this NAS version. But I completely subscribe to MAO’s skepticism towards the 6yo designation without legal proof – that’s not how age statements work!

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    • That’s interesting, I also think I have a preference for Calvados with a strong, clean apple flavor but the Hubert didn’t do it for me. Admittedly, I finished my bottle over a year and a half ago and it was probably only my third or fourth bottle of Calvados I had bought so it’s quite possible that my tastes have changed since then. It’s also possible that I didn’t give it the proper air time in the glass for some of the fumes to blow off. I’m looking forward to the results of your blind tasting.

      Florin, are there any specific farm producers you like? I am traveling to Normandy at the end of August and am planning now which producers I’d like to visit. I’m hoping to pick up some interesting bottles while I’m there.

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      • I don’t have enough experience with farmer producers to make recommendations. The overwhelming majority (95%+) don’t export to the US and most never sold a bottle in a store outside Normandy. My suggestion is to either i) stay locally and get recommendations while there, ii) look up in Charles Neal’s book for the ones with the funniest-looking faces and wearing rubber boots, or iii) ask Charles Neal. I would stay away from the houses you’ve heard of, perhaps with the exception of Camut (I don’t personally like them but they are the most famous) and Michel Huard.

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        • Thank you. I actually just received the Charles Neal book in the mail yesterday, so perfect timing. I’ll look for the goofiest farmers and add them to my itinerary. Camut also seems like an obligatory stop, as you mentioned.

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  3. I think whisky drinkers will find a 15-year-old calvados an agreeable entry to the spirit. At that age, the wood provides flavors the malt fan can relate to.

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  4. So I finally had a blind head-to-head of the 2006 Domaine Hubert (DH06) and the current version (DH16). The blinding itself was difficult, since the difference in color and body is readily apparent: DH06 looks and swirls like a honeyed Sauternes, DH16 like a Sauvignon Blanc. So I tasted them trying not to look at the liquid. The nose is comparable: full-on apple, very rich, layered. More apple pie in DH06, i.e. some pretty baked, caramelized apple notes, not there in DH16. The difference is more apparent in the taste: the DH16 is somewhat uni-dimensional whereas in DH06 the apple spirit is enveloped in a slight sweetness – again, like your favorite apple pie (still tart and fully fruit-driven, we’re talking Julian apple pie, not Entremann’s). Richer, longer finish in DH16. I should say that early on in the tasting I occasionally got some fleeting metallic, coppery flavors, that seemed to disappear with time in the glass. (Good thing they did, too.)

    The reveal confirmed my suspicions, that the richer, more balanced spirit was DH06. This being said, the family resemblance is very obvious, and both are good Calvadoseses. DH16 is the younger, cheaper brother, that probably anyone in Calvados will be happy to drink if put in front of them – and I along with them. DH06 seems to be aged to perfection, to the point where the wood adds richness and mellows the harsh spirit, but does not distract: you never wonder if it’s bourbon or Cognac, this can only be Calvados.

    I’ll add to the disclaimers above that I grew up with plum brandy, so I am biased towards un-aged fruit spirits (not everybody’s favorite drink, I learned again and again). So I may like the DH16 more than others will. But even so, DH06 is clearly the better Calvados. Moreover, I have absolutely no doubt that DH06 and DH16 differ in age, by a considerable margin – 7 years vs 3-4 years most likely.

    DH16: 82pts; DH06: 88pts.

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