Recent studies released by health officials known as the Chief Medical Officers in the United Kingdom have revised downward the level of alcohol consumption considered safe for adults. Led by Dr. Sally Davies the CMO now advises that no more than 1 liter of wine per week should be consumed coupled with two days of abstinence. Dr. Davie also dismissed “as an old wives tale,” research showing the value of red wine phenols to improved circulatory function.

About two centuries earlier a popular health advisory espoused in Wales noted that “eating an apple before bed deprives the doctor of his bread,” more recently interpreted as “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Given the apparent disregard by the CMO of already proven data regarding the health benefits of a glass or two of wine a day one might conclude that the Wales adage bears as much fruit, pun intended, as the latest CMO advice.

Let’s take the apple advisory a step further. Calvados, an elixir of sublime post prandial pleasure, is made from distilled fermented apple cider in the northern French province of Normandy. A snifter before bedtime is an absolute delight and there’s no messy apple core to dispose of. Those who have taken the time to try this deluxe distillate tend to leave other brandies, Cognac and Armagnac for instance, on the shelf in favor of Calvados.

Pears are also added to the apple juice during fermentation in some Calvados before the cider is double distilled into a smooth drinking brandy. Two years of oak aging adds additional complexity and layered fruit flavors dominated by apple. Look for Boulard, Christian Drouin and Lecompte brands among others. Those noted as Pays d’Auge are distilled exclusively from apples for those wanting strict adherence to the Welsh advisory.

As for those holding to the tradition of “anything made from grapes must be good for you,” Cognac and Armagnac top the list. Indeed barely a century ago, brandy in particular Cognac, was thought to have substantial medicinal value.  Made from fermented ugni blanc grapes, also known as trebbiano, the juice is double distilled as in Calvados, then aged in Limousin oak barrels from two to twenty years or more.  The vast majority of Cognac is a blend of at least three different vintages to replicate style and taste year after year. As with all brandies no further aging occurs once they are bottled.

In Armagnac three additional grape varieties are used in the fermentation including colombard, baco blanc and folle blanche. Because the wine is distilled only once Armagnac aficionados feel their choice exudes a broader spectrum of richer flavors than Cognac. Aging in various types of oak also adds to Armagnac complexity.

Prices for any of the aforementioned brandies run the gamut depending on age and whether specialty decanters are included. Remy Martin takes the prize for Cognac exclusivity with its Louis XIII in a Baccarat crystal flask at Bt130,000. Look for these historically endorsed health enhancers at Wine Gourmet and Wine Selection shops. 


Written by: R. James Mullen