An importer was kind enough to share some very interesting samples of french and spanish ciders with me. It just so happened a week or so after they arrived that a friend of mine said that he wanted to learned to articulate his cider tasting experiences more comfortably. I've rarely heard a better use for a Sunday afternoon, so he cooked and I brought cider. I know his tastes to veer towards french and spanish ciders far more than our local offerings, guiding my choices to be three from my recent European samples.
I chose three that I hoped would show real breadth in terms of tannins, acidity, sweetness, and mouthfeel. These are some of the characteristics that are reasonably approachable when it comes to tasting cider and learning to talk about what we taste.
For food pairings, we had a selection of cheeses with crackers followed by super tasty fish tacos and ending up with a flourless chocolate torte. You wish you could have been there. We had fun, learned things, and laughed a bunch. I also got to meet an amazingly interesting artist visiting from the pacific Northwest. And I've always found cider to be a great thing to bring fabulously varied people to the proverbial table.
Manoir de Grandouet Cambremer Cidre de Tradition AOP Pays d’Auge (4.5%): http://www.manoir-de-grandouet.fr/
Official description: “FLAVORS: This coppery yellow cider reveals aromas of cooked fruit, dried herbs and leather. This semi-sweet cider is very fruity, with a full mouth feeling of softness and very slight bitterness”
Aromas: applesauce, peas, juicy orange
This smells of fruit quite pleasant and wild. We could smell apple, pear, blueberry, orange juice, and applesauce. It smelled like an appealing brunch spread!
Sweetness/ dryness: semi-sweet
A lovely fresh fruity semi-sweet. It is marked brut but because of the fermentation methods used, it will not taste brut to most drinkers of any other style of cider.
Flavors and drinking experience: green grapes, mellow, balanced, blueberries, fresh
Wow! What a well balanced and fruity cider. This style of cider isn't for everyone, but its so much fun. We had this one first with some brie which brought out its bitter notes, which I found tremendously appealing. Everyone liked the tiny champagne like bubbles. This had low acid and higher tannins, but it remained overall within balance for its style. I enjoyed it deeply.
Le Brun: Brut Cidre du Bretagne: http://www.winesellersltd.com/wine-brand/Le%20Brun.html
Official description: “FLAVORS: A crisp, well balanced apple cider. Acidic, tart, and dry with a strong finish. Beautiful woody note in the aftertaste.”
Aromas: barnyard, vegetal, tannic, and funky
These aromas offer up a lot of phenolic action. Some of those notes drew us in, while others were more ambiguous, but the overall impression is one of fermented rusticity and mellow cooked apple.
Sweetness dryness: semi-dry
This is a challenging cider, though its sweetness/dryness level is not the most controversial aspect.
Flavors and drinking experience: very fermented, fruity, low acid, vegetal, funky
I liked this one the most, after it sat open a while anyway. I found this low-acid, high tannin cider very intriguing and divisive. I liked it. My companions were more split in their opinions. I found some of the characteristics reminiscent of what I like about english ciders; its decidedly woody and appley in a fermented way.
Sidra Asturiana Mayador: http://mayador.com/
Official description: “This limited edition sparkling sidra is made of Asturias apples. The aroma is moderate to light heavy apple, tart apples, apple skin/peel and oaky scents. This sidra’s flavor is moderate sweet and a light acidic with a long to average length for the finish.” Interesting thing to note, this was fermented in chesnut barrels!
Aromas: brine, grass, tropical fruit
This smelled really interesting wildly not like pomme fruits. I found more grass, pineapple, and brine in the aromas.
This is a firm semi-sweet. It has plenty of sweetness to allow the fruit flavors to come through, but the sweetness does not dominate the experience.
Flavors and drinking experience: acidic, floral, sparkling, tropical fruit
This was my companion's favorite without any question. This tastes very true to the flavor profile I associate with spanish ciders. Tartness and acidity dominate. I enjoyed the herbal an grassy notes but found the volatile acidity to be less in my wheelhouse. The cider changes as it gets warmer, and I found it more mellow and pleasant after it had been in an open glass for several minutes. The most interesting phrase in my notebook about this one is, “a small army of flowers.”
What a great set of ciders to explore and discuss!