Cider as fine as wine?

“I don’t like cider,” are words I’ve said countless times. If you were to replace the word cider with wine and put someone else in my shoes, I’d probably sigh. It’s not necessarily that you don’t like wine, you just haven’t tried the right wine yet, is what I’d think, half in slightly snobbish hope and half in the knowledge that there’s so many styles out there.

The same, it appears, is true of cider. In walks Alistair Morrell, founder and director of Cider Is Wine, and a wine consultant by trade. Cider Is Wine is an alliance of cideries that aims to “represent the best of the best in quality (artisanal) cider products, as well as the best value for money, whatever the price asked”. The ultimate aim being “pure drinking pleasure”.

I was nonetheless a sceptic. No one has ever given me a cider I like. I don’t know why but the combination of apple juice and alcohol, I ignorantly believed, could never really work.

Alistair is quick to point out that growing apples for cider is just like growing grapes for wine; you have variety, you have terroir, you have the cidery, and you have the cidermaker. Every single cider has the ability to be unique and interesting.

Along with these wise words, which in hindsight feel obvious, Alistair brings some samples. The best is Brannland, a Swedish producer who started in 2010 in Umea, just north of Stockholm. Andreas Sundgren, Brannland’s founder, has made a significant impact in the cider world by creating Ice Ciders by the  Quebecois laws, using the naturally cold winters of northern Europe. Today his ciders are served in Michelin star restaurants and the quality is truly outstanding, akin (and sometimes better) than Ice Wine. They are imported by Alliance Wine.

Closer to home is the Once Upon A Tree project, a long-established cider company in Herefordshire making a range of still, sparkling and ice ciders and perries. They take all the tradition of cidermaking and inject an element of contemporary creativity, such as running cider through Pinot Noir skins.

Tasting quality ciders

I’ve written some tasting notes on the ciders we tasted below but one thing is for sure: I do like cider.

Abel Methode Cider, New Zealand ★★★ Pick! – Produced in small quantities from 80% apples and 20% pears, hand-picked, crushed and then fermented until dry. The cider is unfined and unfiltered, preserving the natural fruit. Second fermentation happens in bottle, like Champagne. Bone dry and full of lightning-fresh green apple, tangy pear and a crisp, refreshing finish. I would say minerality as I’m struggling for another word for fresh. This is so damn refreshing! NZ$ 12.99.

Gospel Green Brut, England ★★☆ – Made with the double fermentation traditional method, like Champagne, but using hand picked apples from Gospel’s Blackmoor Estate in Hampshire. Lots of apple skins over hints of creamy autolysis. Bone dry and zingy. Around £14.

Gospel Green Rose, England ★★★ – A “super-premium” rose cider made from apple juice and Pinot Noir (5%). Cherry and apple on the nose with a soft, creamy palate and hints of kernel. Good acidity. Would be a cracking cider with food. Around £15.

Once Upon A Tree Wild Flight, England ★★☆ – 100% Dabinett apples and fermented with wild yeasts before being aged for three years. The result is spiced red apple nose with a very smooth texture on the palate. Viscous and oily but drier than expected. Circa £9.

Once Upon A Tree Dabinett Pinot, England ★☆☆ – 100% Dabinett apples co-fermented with Pinot Noir grapes skins from their sister Sixteen Ridges estate. This smells almost exactly like the wine with a deep note of honeyed apple. Like the wine it’s a soft and fruity tipple. Circa £17.

Pilton Keeved, England ★★☆ – An original “keeved” cider, made by Pilton since 2010. Bittersweet cider apples are partially fermented to produce a naturally medium cider without sweetening or pasteurisation. Wild yeasts, cold cellars and low nutrient orchards of Pilton are all essential to this method. The result is a pongy nose that leads into a mouth-watering palate of red apples and lemon. It feels rustic, but in that good, artisan way… c. £8.

Hallets Deviation, Wales ★★☆ – Dry sparkling cider made using the Charmat method. Yeasty red apple nose. Sweet Pink Lady apple fruit. There’s some tannin, too. Quite an elegant style. Circa £12.

Killahora Ice, Ireland ★★★ – Rare apple ice wine made from bittersweet apples on the Killahora Orchards 200-year-old estate on south facing slopes in Cork, Ireland. Apple chutney and berry compote on the nose. Great acidity, long length. Notes of toffee apple on the finish. Long length with a hint of bitterness to stop it all getting too sweet. Would be a star with blue cheese. Circa £25.

Kystin Apple Chestnut, France ★★★ – Apples and organic chestnuts are co-fermented to make this unique sparkling cider. Sixteen varieties of apple are used alongside the chestnuts. Bright apple skin and candied chestnut on the nose with a light style, soft palate echoing red apples and ginger over rich chestnuts. Something very different. Circa £20 or less.

Brannland Pernilla, Sweden ★★★ Pick! – Semi-dry (40g/l) lightly sparkling cider. Sweet candied apple nose. Beautifully fresh with good acidity that immediately makes you pay attention. Serious cider. An astringent, grippy tannin that adds layers to the fruit. Smooth, long finish. A cider to turn anyone a cider fan. Circa £13.

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