Monday, February 2, 2015

Cider Review: Castle Hill Cider's Celestial

There's time for one last cider review before Cider Con 2015, and I have just the cider for it: Castle Hill Cider's Celestial. Many thanks for my enthusiastic friends who took me cider hunting for the entirety of my vacation because this find surprised me in a Florida grocery store wine shop( in Gainesville, FL for those who care). Especially surprising because the cider itself is not from Florida but from Virginia. Thanks so much, guys!

 In looking up the company, I noticed how beautiful the Castle Hill Cider website looks:

Mind you, I could be feeling pretty biased towards seeing beautiful summer views of trees, apples, and green grass. Things are pretty chilly in upstate tonight (predicted windchill is -15). But more seriously, the page is helpful, clear, and filled to the brim with gorgeous photographs. This is what the folks behind the cider say about themselves, their cider philosophy, and what sets apart Castle Hill Cider.
We take an apple-centered approach to cider making. The aim of our technique is to bring out the best of each year’s harvest. Utilizing both tradition and the cutting edge, Castle Hill Cider strives to bring you the highest quality and most enjoyable ciders. From fermenting the Levity in buried kvevri, the world’s oldest known fermentation vessels, to arresting fermentation of the Serendipity with cross flow filtration; from working with growers of varieties truly suited to cider, to renovating an 80 year old orchard, we strive to bring you the best cider to share with meals, friends, and relaxing moments.
 This set of claims comes across as fairly lofty but incredibly interesting, especially when paired with cider names like Celestial, Serendipity, Levity, and Gravity. I admit that my curiosity is more than piqued. I also love that they distinguish between high quality and enjoyable; that's funny and unexpected but not without truth. Castle Hill Ciders have a tasting room and, for seven special states (of which New York is not one), a cider club which offers steady good discounts for quarterly three-bottle shipments of cider. Why no New York, friends?

In looking at the descriptions both online and on the bottle of the Celestial, I found quite a bit of information. Here's the online description, "This cider has firm tannin structure that exhibit notes of earthiness, spice and citrus.This comes from a blend of Ellis Bitter and Albemarle Pippin apples. Celestial’s finish is enhanced by a touch of Winesap apples that offer a bright clean finish. Pairing this cider with dishes incorporating rosemary or lavender will pick up on its aromatic notes." The ABV hits right above average for artisanal ciders at 8.1%. 

Reading from my bottle, "Made from classic Virginia cider apples and English bittersweets, Celetial shimmers with layers of apricot, citrus, and melon over a generous balance of tannins and bright acid. Star kissed."

These share quite a few similarities but one emphasizes tannins more and the other fruit and acid. We'll see how the cider actually tastes.

 Appearance: straw, small visible bubbles, brilliant

Though I see some bubbles, I don't see too many. The color looks like a shining pale straw and it simply sparkles with brilliance in the glass. Very lovely.

Aromas: cooked apples, yeast, minerals, rich

The primary aroma is one of a wonderful home-cooked apple sauce. If you read this blog regularly, you know this is one profile of cider aroma for certain heritage apples. Secondarily, I get nice yeasty dry minerally notes. The holistic impression is of rich blended fruit. It is very natural to smell and gives me the expectation that this cider won't be particularly sweet.  Lastly my companions and I could detect green walnut and ripe pear. Smells yummy.

Sweetness/Dryness: Off-dry

The Celestial is a very acid-edged off-dry.

Flavors and drinking experience: high tannin, very high acid, medium sparkle

To be fairly factual at first, both descriptions are correct. This cider offers high tannins and even higher levels of acid. I think they use Champagne yeast. I would not describe this cider confrontational. Pleasant. My only critique would be that the finish fades quickly. I can detect some warmth from the higher ABV, but the cider is not hot. The Celestial tastes very clean with notes of underripe peaches, green wood, and spice. Definitely Mid-level sparkling, and bottle conditioned.  The bright citrus gives what little sweetness I can detect some character. Almost more twiggy than fruity, like an apple stem. I would call this cider very North American in style. I do get the tiniest phenolic note when it warms up more. A cider for committed cider lovers but friendly enough for anyone who likes white wine or champagne. Two thumbs up!

I think the Celestial would be delightfully drinkable with nearly any food. We had it, oddly enough, with local Florida tortilla chips and special Austin, TX salsa. I found it very good that way, but I would also have been well pleased to serve it with crab cakes and asparagus. My firmest recommendation is to serve this cider with warmth and conversation. It can support both beautifully.