I'm shaking things up a bit with a cider post today! I have to admit that prior to writing this, my knowledge of cider was limited to:
1. It's made with apples
2. It's sparkling
Don't act like you're not impressed.
Cider has been growing in popularity lately, so I jumped at the chance to pretend to be a hipster for at least a few paragraphs. In my cider research I've learned some really interesting things that I'm going to share with you - I'm excited! Let's do this.
The first thing to know is that virtually any kind of apple can be used to make cider, but there are a variety of specific apples that are commonly used in its production. There are four classes of these cider apples based on their levels of tannin and acidity:
sweet: Low tannin, low acidity
bittersweet: High tannin, low acidity (most widely used)
sharp: Low tannin, high acidity
bittersharp: High tannin, high acidity
Not unlike grapes, apples need to be pressed for their juice. Crushing whole apples isn't effective, so instead they're put into a hopper, which is like a mechanical stone mill, and ground into a pulp. This pulp is put into a press, the juice is collected, blended, then fermented with the natural yeast that is present on the apple skins. Some cider makers choose to age their ciders in wood casks after fermentation, giving it some more complex characteristics.
Quality artisanal ciders are produced throughout the world and I chose to taste ciders from France and Spain. These are two of my favorite wine countries, so I thought I would see how their ciders deliver.
The regions of Brittany and Normandy are the largest areas of "cidre" production in France. These ciders are typically made with a high percentage of bittersweet apples and often not fully fermented before bottling. So, the resulting cider has some natural sweetness.
I tasted a cider from Normandy, Daufresne Brut Cidre. Trying to write tasting notes for a cider was a bit of a challenge for me since my nose and palate have been trained, pretty much on a daily basis, to pick up notes in wine. With this cider I got delicate notes of red apples, honey, and some spice. It was medium bodied, off-dry, and had medium tannins. It was very pleasant!
Daufresne Brut Cidre: $10
The two leading regions for cider production in Spain are Asturias and Basque Country in Northern Spain where it's considerably more lush and rainy than the rest of the country. The style of ciders here are more acidic compared to French cider because they are made with a much higher proportion of sharp apples.
I tried two ciders from Mayador, which is one of the oldest producers in the Asturian region. The first was the Limited Production Sidra Espumante, which is fermented in chestnut barrels and matured for 8 months before release. I got some savory notes of green olive and cheese on the nose and palate along with tart apple. It was quite acidic, had a medium body, and it was off-dry. The next cider from this producer was their Sidra Natural. This is fermented and matured the same way that the Espumante is, but it is not filtered before bottling so it has a cloudy appearance. The nose showed a strong note of green olive, but did not have the cheesy character of the first. I also got notes of sour apple and some citrus. This cider was full bodied with a zingy acidity and just a touch of effervescence.
Mayador Limited Production Sidra Espumante: $9
Mayador Sidra Natural: $8
In Spain there are bars, called sidreria, that are devoted entirely to cider. These are also home to a traditional method of pouring cider, which I attempted (poorly). It's called "throwing cider" or "throwing sidra". The pourer will hold a special cider glass in the left hand with their arm extended as far to the ground as they can reach and the bottle in their right hand with that arm held upwards as far as they can reach, then pour. The force of the cider hitting the side of the glass will instantly add more carbonation and give the drink a creamy, fuller texture, but only for about a minute. So, the amount poured is usually the size of a shot so that it can be drunk quickly. Of course I had to try this for myself and here is the awkward and sticky result:
More ended up on my hand than in the glass, but it was so fun to try. The third pour was the charm and I'm told that it indeed had a fuller body and texture. A win!
I found some similarities in style between cider and wine from France and Spain - the French cidre was delicate, well balanced, and flavorful, much like many French wines. The Spanish sidra were complex, intense, and showed some notes of aging techniques, similar to Spanish red wines. Or maybe I'm just imagining the connections :) Either way, I really enjoyed my first legit cider experience and I hope that I've inspired you to delve into the world of cider too!