Celebrations & More: Liquid spirits complement the harvest season and holidays

As a general rule of thumb, the High Holy Days are neither early nor late but always on time, even when they seem to sneak up on you. Regardless of the actual dates, in the northern latitudes the holidays always come in autumn.

Similarly, the change in weather — cooler evenings, shorter days — encourages a shift from summer wines to those better suited to this time of year. Brighter, high-acid wines like rosés give way to wines with earthier flavors and more complexity that complement both the harvest season and the traditional holiday meals.

Syrah is an ideal autumn wine. Also called “Shiraz,” it is perhaps best known as coming from Australia and France, but it is actually grown in nearly every grape-producing region. Bottled alone or used as part of a blend, Syrah is a richly flavored, full- to medium-bodied varietal whose style can range from big and powerful to refined and graceful. Dark-fruit aromas and flavors along with pepper and spicy notes match well with the typical autumn fare and are a pleasant counterpoint to chilly evenings.

Many first-rate kosher options are currently available, including the elegant Flam Reserve Syrah 2010 from Israel. It begins with floral and dark-raspberry aromas that expand into red and black cherry, currant and plum flavors accented with white pepper and licorice leading to a balanced, lengthy finish.

The family-owned Flam Winery is located in the Judean Hills, close to Beit Shemesh. Since its first releases in 1998, Flam has garnered both critical and popular acclaim and in 2010 became kosher certified. Winemaker Golan Flam previously worked in Italy and Australia, while patriarch Israel Flam was the senior winemaker at Carmel; matriarch Kami Flam is CFO, and brother Gilad Flam is responsible for marketing and business development. Flam produces stylish wines under several different labels including reserve, superiore and classico.

Spirits-wise, we thought for an elegant and enjoyable change of pace, we’d reconsider a fine premium Calvados such as the Boulard Grand Solage VSOP ($50) at the young end, or, moving up in price and age, the Boulard Calvados XO de Boulard ($110), or Boulard Millesime 1985 ($280).

Calvados is basically apple brandy, or distilled hard apple cider, made in the Normandy region of northwest France. Think of it as the working Frenchman’s cognac — though these days prices are keeping pace with that more luxury-branded grape-based libation. The people of the region commonly joke that there is no “art” to making Calvados; rather it is enough to have had a father, grandfather, great-grandfather, etc., who filled the barrels and managed the orchards. Family tradition is also essential because, frankly, Calvados is a long-term investment game. After the apple orchard is planted, it will likely take at least 10 years before there are sufficient quantities of decent fruit, and then you have to age your calvados for it to show well, often at least 25 years, just to command respectable prices.

Calvados has a strong personality, and at its core is a rustic drink. It is more often than not semi-sweet, with aromas and flavors of apples, other fruits and spices. Like whiskey, a young Calvados can be harsh and feisty, but, like whiskey, mellows and matures beautifully with barrel aging.

Dozens of varieties of apples are grown in the region and used for cider and Calvados production, from bitter to sweet, with the especially bitter types being favored for Calvados production, while the acid and bittersweet varieties are preferred for cider. Around 40 varieties are widely used for Calvados, though the appellation regulations allow 50 distinct varieties.

Boulard Calvados is at the super-premium end of the quality spectrum. Boulard Calvados comes from the famed Pays d’Auge district of Normandy, considered the finest-quality region because of its tradition of excellent apples, refinement and double distillation in alembic pot stills. The Boulard Grand Solage VSOP, blended from 4- and 10-year-old oak-aged Calvados, is an unctuous, heady yet balanced bittersweet, with hints of almonds, vanilla, allspice and ginger wrapped in a slightly woody box.

The Boulard Calvados XO de Boulard, blended from 8- to 40-year-old oak-aged Calvados, is a full-bodied, rich, velvety smooth spirit with aromas and flavors of apples, almost-ripe pears, toasted nuts, quince, raisins, nutmeg, allspice, caramel, star anise, and citrus fruits.

The pricey Calvados Boulard Millesime 1985 (the year of distillation, not harvest), is a wonderfully complex, warming, off-dry spirit with notes of wood, apple tart, buttery baked apple, coffee, treacle, licorice, spices, and fresh and toasted nuts, followed by a hint of smoke.

Some people consider all Calvados to be kosher, while others consider only certain brands to be kosher, and still others require formal kosher certification. Boulard is officially considered kosher without certification by the Kashruth Authority of the London Beth Din (KLBD), the Grand Rabbinat du Bas Rhin Beth Din de Strasbourg and the Consistoire de Paris.

A.J. Liebling, the longtime New Yorker journalist and gourmand, declared in his 1962 food memoir, “Between Meals,” that “Calvados … is the best alcohol in the world.” To Liebling, this “veritable elixir of Eden,” was much better in every respect to cognac, which he considered “precocious and superficial” by comparison..”

The list and price of available kosher cognacs makes Liebling hard to argue with. Suffice it to say that if a glass of cognac is supposed to conjure up images of a visit with French aristocracy, a glass of Calvados reminds one that shmoozing with the hired help is likely to be more diverting.


Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon write a weekly syndicated wine and spirits column. For more reviews see www.grapelines.com.