Michel Huard Hors d’Age (Calvados)

Huard Hors d'Age (Calvados)
Charles Neal, author of the only book on Calvados you need purchase, says of Huard that it is to AOC Calvados sub-region/appellation what Camut is to the Pays d’Auge and Lemorton to the Domfrontais: the most admired of its producers. Then again, Charles Neal is the US importer of Huard so he might be a little biased. I purchased this from Astor Wines in New York (I’m not sure if it’s an exclusive). It is a blending of Calvados from three vintages: 1990, 1992 and 1999. That is to say, the youngest Calvados in this blend is 16 years old and the oldest is 25. Astor is currently selling it for about $60. I mention the age and the price because they’ve particularly been on my mind since my friend Sku posted reviews on Monday of two teenaged Calvados imported by Nicolas Palazzi, a 16 yo and a 18 yo that are selling for $200 and $225 respectively (also at Astor): more than three times the price of this Huard. Sku raves about those Calvados but didn’t have much to say about the price in his review. 

Frankly, I find the price unacceptable and said so, somewhat rudely, in a comment on his review. Sku noted by way of justification/mitigation that the Palazzi Calvados are both single casks, at cask strength and from a small producer. I was unimpressed by this argument. In a world where the excellent Lemorton 25 is available for $125, asking for $225 for a 18 yo (as was also the case for the Beudin/Bordelet 18 yo—also imported by Palazzi) is a bit much. And justifying it via the single cask/cask strength/small producer argument seems to me to risk validating a questionable path for Calvados.

For someone like me who has come to brandy as a result of out of control “premiumization” in the whisky world it’s hard to look at something like these expensive Palazzi imports and not see a near future in which abv’s may or may not be raised but prices across the board certainly will be (and keep in mind that Calvados is already far more expensive than Armagnac of similar age). If Palazzi is such a brandy savant, let him bring more affordable stuff to us: almost none of the Calvados producers listed in Neal’s book are available in the US and I doubt highly that it’s because they’re so expensive. Promote Calvados by making more of it available across the board, not by pushing a few expensive bottles for a niche market.

As always, these are my views and if you don’t like them…I have others.

Huard Hors d’Age (40%; from my own bottle)

Nose: Rich apple with notes of toffee, dried orange peel, apricot and just a whiff of wood smoke. On the second sniff there’s some oak along with hints of incense/cinnamon and some spent matches. Pretty consistent with time.

Palate: Pretty much as promised by the nose with more apple and unfiltered apple juice and just a bit more of the oak (not at all tannic) plus a nice waxiness. The oak expands a bit as it sits but it’s balanced perfectly by the fruit, which is itself perfectly balanced between tart and sweet. With more time the orange peel is shaded by some honey. Much richer mouthfeel and depth than you would expect from the strength.

Finish: Medium-long. The oak leads here and then the apple returns at the end.

Comments: This has the best nose of any Calvados I’ve had so far—perfectly balanced between the apple and the oak—and the palate isn’t too far behind either. Another for the whisky drinkers and I can’t imagine better value in whisky for $60. And just to spell it out, you can get two 750 ml bottles of this for the price of one 375 ml bottle of Palazzi’s Beudein/Bordelet selection, which, in my opinion, is not as good despite being a single barrel at cask strength from a small producer.

Rating: 88 points.

11 thoughts on “Michel Huard Hors d’Age (Calvados)

  1. Aha, you found this one too! I split a bottle from K&L, two years ago, with Smokypeat (who sadly is on hiatus from his blog lately). I’d say this is the best aged Calvados I tried, very elegant and balanced. This being said, I never bought another bottle, though I was close a couple times – and I still have a few oz left from my half. The main reason is, I find that aged Calvados loses a lot of its distinctive identity with age, and becomes just another brandy. But that’s because, as I wrote under another review, I am biased towards younger, fruit-forward Calvados.

    Astor had another Michel Huard that seemed interesting, I see now it’s gone. It seems it’s very easy to keep track of Calvados in the US: look up Astor Wines and K&L, and you’re done!

    Like

  2. This sounds like a great brandy that I’d like to try. And I heartily apologize for liking a brandy that was expensive. I know you are a hero of the common man and never review expensive spirits, like say Port Ellen or Brora (or a comparison of two editions of Ardbeg Provenance), so you are in good standing to call me out for that. Well done!

    Like

  3. Even though most of my readers don’t have PhDs, I think they understood it was expensive without my having to say that it was expensive. Seriously though, the problem in the whiskey world is that there is no connection between product and price. The production of Booker’s Rye ($300) isn’t any different from that of Booker’s Bourbon ($50-$75). This year’s Port Ellen ($4,000) wasn’t created any differently from 2007’s ($350) save for time sitting in the barrel which adds some expense, but not that much.

    The Calvados you are enjoying from Camut, Lemorton and Huard are fairly large scale producers (from a Calvados perspective) who are putting out a lot of product, some of which get imported to the US, thanks largely to Charles Neal. Palazzi does something very different in that he is seeking out casks from small producers that we would never otherwise see. The Tertre comes from a tiny producer that ferments in the old style, without heat and using wild yeast. One American producer commented that was an insane investment in time and expense. Those practices add cost.

    None of this means that those products are better, though I have liked them much more than you have, but it is a difference between the products. I don’t think Palazzi’s products are going to drive up prices in the market, as they are small, artisan products. While many are very expensive, I think the market has room for both. I know we are all scarred by what happened in whiskey, but I tend to think this is a different situation…and I think the liklihood of a national craze for Calvados, which is really what’s driving whiskey prices, is unlikely.

    Like

    • Well, while your readers surely saw the price and understood it was high, I don’t see why these discussions of what may be driving the price don’t belong in the write-up itself. You make good points here though I’m not convinced they quite explain just how high the price is. And, again, as I said, it would be nice if importers like Palazzi did more to bring a wider spectrum of Calvados to the US, not just tiny, niche product at crazy prices.

      Like

  4. “Palazzi does something very different in that he is seeking out casks from small producers that we would never otherwise see. The Tertre comes from a tiny producer that ferments in the old style, without heat and using wild yeast. One American producer commented that was an insane investment in time and expense. Those practices add cost.

    None of this means that those products are better, though I have liked them much more than you have, but it is a difference between the products. I don’t think Palazzi’s products are going to drive up prices in the market, as they are small, artisan products. ”

    Take the name Palazzi and interchange it with Van Winkle or Willett and I think you could have written this same paragraph in 2008. Replace old style with “wheat mashbill” I guess too. It’s a calvados NDP or IB pushing the boundaries of price. It will affect the market.

    Like

  5. Just to fuel the fire a little: Yes Sku, Lemorton, Camut & Huard are large houses, but Charles Neal and K&L brought Pacory & Domaine Hubert for under $50. I understand they are younger (which is very much fine by me), but the point remains that among many small producers in Calvados there are deals to be found if one wants to do it. And this places Palazzi’s offerings into the luxury category. (Small exclusive fancy curated expensive etc.) Most of us are more interested in the ‘let’s discover the wonderful world of French brandy’ category instead. And that’s a big difference.

    Like

  6. Sean, I don’t really understand your point. Willett and Van Winkle bottled fantastic bourbon for pretty affordable prices back in 2007. It was the market that pressured prices up, not the producers – in fact Van Winkle hasn’t even raised prices very much on their whiskeys. Moreover, while Palazzi does do some independent bottling, he didn’t bottle the Tertre, he just picked a cask and imported it. It was made by the producers – not an IB or NDP.

    Like

  7. To add to Florin’s point about Pacory: I recently purchased a few older Pacorys in England. The 20 yo cost $80 or so. Now sure, it’s at 40% and not a single barrel and sure, there’s a third layer of markup in the US; but it’s a long way from $80 for a 20 yo to $225 for a 18 yo.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s