This article originally appeared in “Upstate Downtown.”
By Christopher Matthews
It may sound a bit like “man biting dog”, but at the Wine Media Guild of New York’s (WMG) recent October tasting/lunch, the focus was on…cider!
“Hard” (i.e. alcoholic) cider is one of the hottest beverage categories in the US, with sales having tripled from 2012 to 2014 alone. Wine producers have been urged to assess the current and future threat posed by cider to their markets, in particular by the artisanal cider revival, driven by smaller craft producers whose ciders offer compelling flavor profiles that can rival fine wines (at lower generally alcohol levels).
Sponsored by WMG members Alan Wax and Carlo DeVito (who also spoke), along with special guest speaker Daniel Pucci, the cider sommelier at Wassail Restaurant on Manhattan’s Lower East Side (highly recommendable!), who gave the low-down on the process — and styles — of cider-making, the event at Felidia in Manhattan featured a top-flight line-up of cider producers from across the US (New York, New Hampshire, Virginia and California), England and France.
Among the over 30 ciders (and “perry”, i.e. pear cider) on offer, there was much to like.
Aaron Burr Cidery (NY-Sullivan Co.) showed especially well with its two submissions, Appinette and Homestead East Branch, both exhibiting wine-like complexity. Appinette, a blend of 70% local apples (Idared, russets and Northern Spy) and 30% Traminette grapes, delivers floral and stone fruit notes, with some spice and pleasing bitterness on a long clean finish – excellent for the table. The Homestead East Branch, made of unsprayed wild and abandoned apples foraged in the Upper Delaware River Valley, is herbal and earthy, with excellent acidity. Made in minute quantities – and in high demand from NYC sommeliers – both are fairly dear ($27 per 750ml), but absolutely worth it.
Generating a lot of buzz in the room was Nine Pin’s Ginger (Hudson Valley); several members remarked that it would be great in cocktails, especially in a “Dark & Stormy”. A ginger infusion with a base cider, it’s full-throttle on the ginger flavor, and not for the faint of palate! Nine Pin’s Signature, a refreshing, off-dry and aromatic cider based on McIntosh-related varieties, often graces my fridge upstate.
I also enjoyed Bad Seed’s (Hudson Valley) “The Farmer”, a crisp, straightforward and refreshing cider made with Saison ale yeast.
Beyond New York State, seriously good is Foggy Ridge’s (VA) “Serious Cider”: bone dry and zesty, with citrus and mineral notes and tangy orchard fruit, this cider will also go down well with food – think roast pork chops with sauerkraut. Tilted Shed’s Graviva Semi-dry (CA) sported earthy notes, bright apple fruit and excellent balance on a long finish. Highly recommendable.
Not to be outdone by the American cider upstarts, however, the “old world” participants greatly impressed, especially on the perry front.
A highlight of the tasting was the Chateau Drouin Poiré AOC (France, Normandy), a bright, vinous perry with high tone herbal and stone fruit aromas, finishing clean, off-dry and earthy. Quite a flavor package at around 5% ABV! Another Normandy gem, Domaine Du Pont Bouche Brut, rocked my palate, achieving rusticity, complexity and elegance simultaneously, with Tarte Tatin flavors and great length, the result of the keeving process, which results in naturally sweet, sparkling cider.
An English perry, Shelton Brothers Oliver’s Classic Perry, played back — and amplified — gorgeous pear aromas and flavors. While less complex than the Drouin perry, it’s a full-flavored, hedonistic pear delight.
Here are some other favorites from my tasting sheet:
Wolffer Estate 139 Dry Rose (NY-Long Island)
Warwick Valley Doc’s Draft Original (NY-Orange Co.)
Farnum Hill Semi-dry (NH) — Stilton cheese nose!
Foggy Ridge Older First Fruit 2013 (VA)
Bonny Doon Querry 2013 (CA) — made with quince, pears and apples.
Dupont Cidre Tripel (France-Normandy)
Bordatto Basandere Cider 2013 (France-Basque)
All in all, an eye-opening tasting. While ciders might not be an existential threat to the wine sector, wineries would be seriously mistaken to ignore the growth potential and attractiveness of quality craft ciders.
Inspired by the all the cider excellence, I decided last weekend to make cider from my own Empire apples (we have three trees), as this year’s harvest has been copious and of excellent quality. I also included some Golden Russets from Montgomery Place Orchards(thanks Talea!) for some extra body and tannin. And it’s fermenting in the basement right now!