Peter Morrell has a Damascene conversion on the road to the orchard
We all carry our food and drink pre-conceptions around with us based on past experience. For many of us powdered instant coffee was our first introduction to the drink and probably hated it. Compare that now with a skilfully made espresso using Jamaican Blue Mountain beans from a single estate, Another example is sherry, the memory of drinking a glass of liquid sugar at a maiden aunt’s house is a far cry from enjoying a chilled glass of fino with roast almonds or a Pedro Ximenez dessert sherry.
I’ve recently discovered that the latest drink where this illusion needs to be shattered is cider. Mention the word and it conjures up images of a group of lads in a pub drinking it from bottles.
Thankfully there an organisation called Cider is Wine who is helping people reconsider their view about this forgotten drink. Cider made by artisans offers the same complexity as wine and is just as versatile in terms of it being a drink to sip and enjoy or paired with a multitude of different dishes during a meal.
Start to explore the world of cider and you will learn that there is as much care lavished on its production as there is wine. The apple juice used is fresh, not a concentrate that may be shipped from China, the ‘terroir’ of climate, soil and location add character and the abundance of apple varieties, some 60,000, will produce a drink with a unique aroma and taste profile. On top of this the alcohol content of cider is far lower than wine but without any loss of ‘mouthfeel’, so it is a healthy option without losing any drinking pleasure.
I recently tried three ciders, ranging from extra dry to sweet, and they all played their role before and during a meal. The experience was a sensation and made me completely re-appraise my view of cider. I approached the tasting by choosing the right glasses (flutes and bowls, not pint mugs) and then considered the bouquet, flavours on the palate and the finish, that delicious lingering aftertaste.
At the weekend my wife and I have a glass or two of sparkling wine with olives before dinner. Instead of our usual Cava we opened a bottle of Bacchus cider made by Once upon a Tree in Herefordshire. This is a co-fermented sparkling cider, the juice from Dabinett and Russett apples is fermented with the yeast used to make the very aromatic English wine. Bacchus. The cider is aged on the lees (the spent yeast) for 9 months which gives it that classic toasty flavour, favoured by drinkers of sparkling wine.
The result was a deliciously complex drink shot through with fine bubbles. In the bouquet there were fruit and flower aromas which were joined on the palate by zesty citrus flavours and hints of toast. The finish was strong and bright. It was bone dry, I would rate it as extra brut, and fresh acidity makes it ideal as an aperitif. Drink it on its own or with south east Asian food.
The second cider we paired with meals over two nights was the Cidentro 2018, a still cider produced by Cooks Cider in Melton Mowbray. Left to mature for 6 months, it was slightly darker in colour with a rich, fruity nose. The palate was strongly fruit driven and it reminded me of the lambic beers brewed in the Pajottenland region of Flanders. Lambic beers are described as having wine like qualities and Cidentro exhibited this character. The drink was dry and slightly sour suggesting wild yeast may have been at play during fermentation. This quality made it ideal to drink with food, it worked well with a carbonara and held its own against a very robust Spanish pork and chorizo stew. The finish was fruity and very persistent.
We finished with Claim, an ice cider made by Brannland in Sweden. Ice cider is made by either leaving the apples on the tree until they freeze or freezing the juice which is then gently thawed. The freezing process concentrates the sugars and the absolute essence of the flavours into a small amount of juice which is then fermented. This process produces a dessert cider with an intense taste that will rival any wine alternative.
This was nectar from the Gods, the bouquet offered notes of summer fruits and aromatic flowers. As it moved onto the palate there was a strong showing of tropical fruit, rose petals and hints of honey. The finish was long and luxurious.
We drank this with aged Stilton, and it would be the ideal companion to an apple crumble or tarte tatin.
I have become cider convert, this really was a Damascene conversion and has made me look at cider in a totally different way. I liked the variety, its quality and its authenticity.
Christmas would be a great time to start your own journey of discovery into the world of cider. You can find out more and order the ciders I tasted and many more by visiting https://www.cideriswine.co.uk/