The time has come in my cider calendar to seek out the ciders I think will taste darker, richer, and more tannic. Though technically it is still fall, and our weather in Ithaca has been suspiciously mild, once we're past Thanksgiving to my my mind winter is here. So, to the winter ciders I go. For the most part between now and spring I'll go looking for the many ways a cider can suit this darker colder time of year.
That means that tonight I'm sharing my notes on something by Craigies Irish Cider. I found their Dalliance 2012 locally.
I had not heard anything about the company before seeing the bottle, so before opening it, I found their website: http://www.craigiescider.ie/
In my reading there, I found out a few things about the company. This seems to be their primary introduction, very focused on place and apples, "7 varieties, 6 growers, 5 counties: 100% Irish. From seed to tree and from soil to season our aim is to express the unique characteristics of Ireland’s magnificent apple orchards. No added water, no added sugar, just pure apple juice, passionately crafted into fine, complex ciders." I have no argument with either their method or their resulting goal of ciders with character and complexity.
Looking deeper, I was able to find more specifics on Craigies goals and practices.
Craigies only use Irish apples, sourced from dedicated growers in counties Waterford, Tipperary, Cork and Kilkenny. The team at Craigies believe that Irish cider achieves its greatest complexity and expression as a blend and that each apple should reflect its regional origins as well as its specific fruit characteristics. Craigies also strongly believe that their ciders should reflect the year in which the fruit was grown and so only produce vintage ciders. Over the years Craigie have developed close links with the apple growers and select from individually chosen orchards.
I love the notion of cider vintages, and I wish current United States regulations allowed the listing of vintages on ciders. Interestingly, Craigies makes a point to describe their ciders as not only gluten free (which is typical) but also vegan. Hey! Animal free people rejoice!
What charms me most on the website is the individual descriptions of many of the individuals involved in the compny, their relevant backgrounds (frequently in the wine world) and their current role with the company. This kind of detail gives the impression that they appreciate the skills and talents of these folks which makes me more inclined to think well of them as a company. Simple but true.
The cider of theirs I'm reviewing is their Dalliance from 2012. On the bottle, it describes a secret three apple blend. Intringuing indeed, but a little digging online revealed that blend to be: 60% Falstaff, 30% Elstar, and 10% Jonagold. I only know Jonagold of the three, so I'm pretty excited to taste apples I don't know.
This same source of detailed information also describes the vintage information: "2012 was a very difficult vintage with a wet spring resulting in a very poor flowering. Summer continued to be cool and wet although conditions improved in the month of September."
And the process of production,
Each variety was harvested separately, brought to the farm and then milled. The pulp was pressed and the resulting juice was allowed to settle for 24 hour before being racked into fermenting tanks. Alcoholic fermentation lasted for three weeks with malolactic fermentation taking place in spring 2013. The ciders were then allowed to rest on their fine lees for 15 months before being blended and bottled in 2014.
Finally, after all of this preparation and context Craigies gives some tasting notes, "Dalliance is pale straw in color with aromas of fresh green and red apples and fennel. It is light bodied and has refreshing acidity. The finish is very long and the overall impression is more like a sparkling white wine than a cider."
Hrm, I love some wine like characteristics in my ciders, but that seems awfully vague. Sparkling white wines can take on as many forms as a cider.
Appearance: hazy, the color of home cooked applesauce, no bubbles
To look at this cider in the glass is to immediately separate it from most North American ciders. It looks so much more still and hazy than most ciders made near here. I do not see almost any visible bubbles. Instead this appearance is far more about soft richness implied by the haze applesauce color.
Aromas: green apples, pear, stone, grapefruit, very bright and sweet
Oh my goodness, I love how this smells! I get apples and pears and peaches all over the place. It also has citrus notes like grapefruit. My one worry based on the bright fruitiness of this smell is that this might taste more sweet than I like. There's an easy way to find that out!
This cider is not as sweet as its aromas implied to me. And I am so pleased! There are a lot of flavors in the cider beyond the fruit notes apparent in the aromas. Yet it isn't dry or bitter or astringent either. I'd call this a fairly sweet semi-dry, or a fairly dry semi-sweet. Very moderate in terms of sweetness.
Flavors and drinking experience: powdery, citrus, leather, mild and balanced
Whoa. The aromas did not adequately prepare me! Complex indeed. It tastes powdery, leathery and very citrusy. I'd say its not bourbon-y or barrel-y in its leatheryness, but I find it pleasantly and calmly musky. I get sparkles of bright pear and grapefruit that taste like they're floating above the leathery taste. The Dalliance offers gentle bubbles; more petillant than truly sparkling. When I take bigger sips, the ciders gives cocoa notes.
This tastes really lovely, but subdued despite its high acidity. It is not really like a lot of British isles cider, but a little like Shane's in Penzance. I love how the malo-lactic fermentation brings in a creamy mouthfeel and hints of fresh mozzerella. Craigies rounds out in a gentle lingering finish.
I'd have this with a mushroom tart or fisherman's pie. Bring in richness to balance the acid with whatever you choose to pair it with and you'll not go wrong. This is a lovely cider; consider me impressed. I look forward to trying the 2013 vintage when I see it. I wonder how different they will be.