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October wine dinner


'Tis The Season for Bubbly French Poiré and Calvados!

By Joan Harkins, French Cider

Holiday parties are the traditional time to break out the bubbly. Why not welcome your friends and family this year with a flute of bubbly French pear champagne? Lightly effervescent with a beautiful pale straw color, French pear champagne or poiré adds a sense of celebration to all your holiday festivities.

French poiré (pronounced pwah-ray) is one of those things that, once experienced, leaves you wondering why it took so long to discover. Made from 100% pure fermented pear juice, it is unpretentious and approachable, yet it brings elegance to your festivities. It is low calorie with a low alcohol percentage of around 2% to 4.5%. There are even AOC/AOP designated poirés which signify a unique terroir and style of production found exclusively in the Domfront region of Normandy. And for those who want to enjoy the more romantic side of poiré, consider this: the pears for making poiré are harvested by hand, often from majestic 300-year-old pear trees found dotting the Norman countryside.

In addition to enjoying classy French pear champagne for toasts and celebrations, poiré also pairs extraordinarily well with holiday brunch menus and holiday teas. Its inviting taste adds interest to brunch items and enhances holiday desserts. It can also be served up as a delicious, mid-afternoon drink that makes a hectic day of holiday shopping seem a little more manageable. And if you are looking for a low alcohol alternative for an office party, poiré has all the right qualities: lighter in alcohol content but not lighter in taste.

While French adds a sense of celebration to the holidays, consider impressing your guests with the true aristocrat of the orchard, Calvados. Calvados (pronounced with the accent on the first syllable, CAL-vados) can only be produced in specially designated areas in the Calvados department in Normandy, France. Similar in style to cognac, it is distilled from the finest apple and pear juice. After distillation, it is put into old oak casks and aged from 2 to 75 years in the cellars of the Calvados estates in Normandy. The resulting brandy-like spirit is smooth, full-bodied -- and perfect for holiday cocktails or that special after-dinner digestif.

Producers in Normandy have been making Calvados for generations. Calvados families take pride in using the time-honored methods of their predecessors as they make fine Calvados on their 200 or 300-year-old estates that look like they are straight out of a fairytale. Recently several of the newest generation of Calvados producers formed a group called L'Esprit de Corps to preserve the best kept secrets of Calvados-making and at the same time introduce new ways of enjoying Calvados - like using it in exquisitely crafted cocktails.

Speaking of exquisite cocktails, Calvados is fast becoming one of the favorite spirits of Seattle's top bartenders. You'll see it used to replace the traditional spirits used in classic drinks like an old-fashioned or a whiskey sour and you'll find the Calvados version of a Mule, the Paris Mule, at many Seattle bars, clubs and restaurants. You'll see Calvados used as the basis for some incredible new creations being served up around town as well. Check out Bar Melusine this month and try some delectable Calvados libations created by head-bartender and Calvados aficionado, Jermaine Whitehead to celebrate the holiday season.

The true standouts of Calvados are those that have aged for at least 8 and up to 75 years in casks that have often previously held cognac, sherry, port or Armagnac. These Calvados are incredibly smooth, complex, and often exhibit subtle undertones of almonds, cashews, mint, salted caramel, butterscotch, coffee, honey, vanilla, spices, candied fruit and even gingerbread! These beautifully-aged Calvados deserve the greatest respect, so invite your guests to take their time and savor every sip. Despite the hustle and bustle of the season, the holidays are meant to be savored, after all. And Calvados provides the perfect reason to slow down just a bit and enjoy those special moments.

As you enjoy the beauty and traditions of this holiday season, why not add the elegance of France's finest pear champagne, and the sultry, sophistication of Calvados to your festivities? Put a bottle (or two) of delicious poiré on ice and make sure you have a beautifully aged Calvados waiting for your guests--and you won't have to travel all the way to Normandy to appreciate the finest holiday spirits that France has to offer.

You can find French poiré at Aqua, Agrodolce, L'Oursin, the WAC, and Uwajimaya in Bellevue and online at You can find young and aged Calvados at several area restaurants like Bateau, Bar Melusin, Mkt, the Boat Street Kitchen, The Corson Building, Sitka and Spruce, and Monsoon, and at local retailers like Uwajimaya Seattle, Northwest Spirits and Wine on Capitol Hill and Downtown Spirits.

December 2017

Joan Harkins owns French Cider

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