Thursday, 6 February 2014
Ahhhh, español sidra - we meet again! Just like a ranging bull or an unforgiving Rafa Nadal forehand, Spanish Sidra packs a whole lotta punch! Stylistically, Sidra is hugely different when compared to the gazillion commercial Australian ciders which we all currently enjoy. So much so, picture the Sun............................................................................now picture Pluto - that's how far apart these two styles are/can get. We don't see too much Sidra in Australia, with drips and drabs floating around in speciality bottle shops. In all honestly, I have had my doubts as to whether Sidra could ever be popular here in Oz. We've got to remember that Sidra can be overly confronting with super rustic features like high volatile acidity, and throat wrenching dryness. Some literally taste like liquefied salt and vinegar chips! This may appeal to some, but let me tell you its an acquired taste. I suggest clicking on the 'Spanish Cider' tab on the home page, and read up a little more on the past two Sidra's I have reviewed.
Sidra Escanciador is located in Villaviciosa in the famous Sidra region of Asturias in Northern Spain. The brand is distributed across Australia by Broadway Liquor. The Natural Sidra Riera is produced very traditionally with acid apples (possibly crab apples)naturally fermented in wooden vats, with no final filtration. The company produces 500,000L's of Asturias Sidra each year, with its ES label being the most known and popular.
The Sidra poured a nice hazy yellow straw, with absolutely no carbonation in the glass. Remember folks, when there is no carbonation the cider is termed 'still', just like a white wine. The nose offered up copious amounts of beautiful rusticity and earthiness. There was a huge whack of deep and complex farmhouse richness almost emulating a fine Breton Cidre. Rich ripe apples combined in perfect harmony with old woody characters to add an element of Spanish traditionalism. A hint of sourness, VA and a tiny lick of brettanomyces was also evident. The complexing layers seemed endless, with broadening wild ferment funk and barnyard notes just lifting the nose to a whole new level. It's a nose which sounds scary and ugly, but it really is a work of art. Just magic.
Although the palate wasn't at the same level of quality as the nose, its still impressed me. The palate weight was on the weaker/watery side, with uber bone dry characters and large tart acidity dominating the mouth feel. However, rustic apple flavours which seemed to linger for eternity added excitement and length. Some volatile notes which usually stick in the back of the throat were less intrusive in this Sidra, and did not offend. There were no tannins to speak of which did leave a hole in the mid to back palate. What I found was that after every mouthful, I was getting more and more addicted. I couldn't put my finger on it, but this Sidra (and its palate), just kept getting better - a real nice surprise. It was easy drinking, with tonnes of personality.
The Sidra Escanciador - Natural Sidra Riera would have to be the best Sidra's I have tried. I loved the rusticity and complexity of the nose - it was waaaay up my alley. The palate perhaps was a touch acidic and watery, but it had lovely flavours which just lingered forever. What I did love was the lower levels of VA as it made the Sidra more approachable. The drink would be perfectly match with blue cheese, or a Sidra glazed chorizo (Chorizo a la Sidra). Yumm!!
Producer: Sidra Escanciador
Country: Asturias (Spain)
Rating: 14.5 out of 20
Sunday, 2 February 2014
There is always something that continually draws me to cider made by Lobo. I don't know, maybe its that I am a proud and self confessed South Aussie and am just being biased and sheltered? Or is it that Warrick Billings - the Maker and Creator of Lobo Cider, has rare access to Adelaide Hills cider apples and uses them to great effect? Lobo ciders such as The Norman, The Crabby and Royale all contain bittersweet cider apples grown in the Adelaide Hills, and are blended together with Lobo's traditional Pink Lady base cider. This trademark gives the ciders more depth, complexity and texture which are elements I look for in cider.
I got the opportunity to judge and spend some time with Warrick Billings late last year in Sydney. Many moons ago, Warrick used to make cider in south east Somerset specialising in Perry. What struck me was his high level of intelligence when it come to cider. His values for cider rated highly in my books, and its producers like him who we need to hang around in this time of highly commercialised, mass produced crap and be there at the end when these ciders die out. The techniques used in the making of Lobo push the boundaries of conventional cider making. Maceration, wild fermenting, bottle carbonation, cider apple/dessert apple blends and the use of crab apples are techniques used to help shape the cider house style. This may not be to everyone's cup of tea, but its intelligent cider making which is producing true cider - not boring same old, same old.
The 2012 Norman is part of the Lobo Exp range which are a group of eclectic and more traditional styles of cider. The cider apples where macerated on pulp/skins before wild fermentation, with 5 per cent pear added towards dryness. A natural bottle carbonation ensured that the cider retained the traditional cloudy Lobo style. The colour gleamed a light yellow straw, with a slight haze. A large eruption of carbonation flooded the glass before settling down into a fine bead.
Intense fresh green apples, floral cider apple, sour sobs and soapy characters initially burst out of the glass. Secondary notes of pear, musk, cut grass and straw also gave the nose some depth. The Pink Lady base tied the nose in well along with some wild ferment rusticity. Tiny wafts of aldehyde where also present . The nose was quite clean but very crisp and tight, as a whole. Quite pretty in a strange way.
The palate was bone dry, with good levels of tannins and zingy acidity. Flavours of crisp green apple, and lemon citrus where fresh and lean emulating a good quality Riesling. The palate structure was super tight, with a nice level of bitterness to add complexity. Being a tight and lighter weighted style, the flavours did fade out a touch towards the mid palate into a quite lean and dry finish. The alcohol was is in good balance being at 6.8 per cent. The palate may have lacked in bold apple flavours, but what was satisfying was the structure and texture which lifted the cider to a new level.
What I enjoyed about The Norman was the honest and simple flavours. Its easy to see that the cider apples make all the difference in terms of complexity and texture. This is a cider which is very very drinkable, but also perfect with food too, such as cheeses or pork. Sounds beautiful!
Check out my previous reviews on Lobo:
Producer: Lobo Juice and Cider Pty Ltd
Country: Australia (Adelaide Hills, South Australia)
Rating: 15.5 out of 20
Sunday, 5 January 2014
It’s not every day a cider makes you sit back in your chair, taking in the finer things in life and go wow. It’s always the little things which make you so appreciative. The new batch of St Ronan’s Pear Cider is exactly that. If there was such thing as a Miss World Cider Competition, the St Ronan’s would not only win the swimsuit segment, it would also win the personality test too. It’s one sexy, damn fine looking cider with the added brains to give it substance. This cider wouldn’t ask for “world peace”, it would stand up and say “I AM CIDER, HEAR ME ROAR!” It would represent Australia perfectly, and take it up to the rest of the world. It’s a pear cider which makes you feel proud about the Industry and about what producers are out to try and achieve. Just to give you some background and scope on this pear ciders history over the past two years, have a read of these accolades:2012 Royal Melbourne Fine Food Awards – Bronze Medal
2012 Australian Cider Awards – Gold Medal and winner of Best Australian Pear Cider/Perry
2013 Australian Cider Awards – Gold Medal, best in class (Methode Champenoise/Bottle Conditioned Perry) and finalist for Best Cider of Show.
The mounting accolades and respect this pear cider is receiving is a testament to the crew at St Ronan's Cider – Troy Jones and Eric Driessen. These guys are producing some of the best presented and made pear cider I have seen so far in Australia. It's steering away from the more mass produced commercial pear cider, and being made with real elbow grease and flair. It’s meant to be savoured and enjoyed, rather than heavily consumed and mistreated. It’s real Aussie cider at its best.
The colour offered up a nice yellow straw, with a slight cloudy haze which got cloudier as more of the bottle was consumed. On opening the bottle, there was good pressure behind the cork and the cider poured with an impressive natural fizz.
The nose could only be described as heavenly. I would even go as far as saying divine (in my very best posh accent). Amazing earthy pear varietals leaped out of the glass with impeccable clarity. Super soft, floral and very pretty/feminine. Other notes of lavender, bath salts, lychee's and strangely enough coconut added focus and dimension. This was a nose full of aromatics, focus and purity. Absolutely stunning, loved it.
The palates ability to offer up so much generosity was another reason why this pear cider was at the top of its game. Beautiful up-front pear varietals were soft and sweet, but also very delicate and floral. Fresh and pure flavours of juicy pear impressed. A good level of sherbety/citric acid zing added structure, along with just a hint of powdery phenolics. The mid palate offered up complex sensations of creaminess and earthiness, which lingered to the back palate. The 7 per cent alcohol was well balanced with no signs of alcoholic warmth. If you closed your eyes, you could be mistaken for drinking sparkling pear juice. Just so pristine, clean and delicious. It was a perfectly balanced pear cider, with a nice level of dosage sweetness to round it out.
It’s now very understandable as to why this cider is gathering so much momentum in terms of popularity and quality. It’s beautifully made and pays respects to the Australian grown pears. A perfect cider to match with food too. This pear cider captures the purity of the pear so well, but also ones imagination. Beautifully made Australian real cider – what more could you ask for???
Check out the review on St Ronan’s Methode Tradionelle Apple Cider: http://www.allaboutcider.com/2013/01/st-ronans-methode-traditionelle-apple.html
Producer: St Ronan’s CiderCountry: Australia (Healesville, Yarra Valley)
Rating: 18.5 out of 20
Friday, 3 January 2014
Well here we are again, at the start of a New Year and back into the swing of cider reviews, articles and of course commentary. I am tipping a big year for cider in 2014, with consumers continuing to wake up to the faux, sugar laden RTD’s, shunning them and converting to more ‘real’ cider (I am starting to sound like a broken record with this!). My hope/resolution is to see some of the ‘me too’ producers (the sprinters) who exploit the popularity of cider get weeded out, and the true cider makers (the marathon runners) become more prevalent. What’s ‘me too’? Well the ones who make cider for the real reasons understand the history and traditions behind cider, utilise real apples/pears and have a deep understanding of the production. These producers will continue to drive this Industry into the future. It’s the greedy ‘me too’ leaches who take short cuts, exploit the system, use artificial flavourings and concentrates etc. who will eventually drive the industry into the ground, sending the popularity of cider back to the dark ages….again. What would be the point of building an industry which is still earning respect and reputation, if it’s to eventually die in five years’ time due to poor management and exploitation? And how could we forget flavoured cider? It always makes me so disappointed when an established cider brand expands their portfolio to include fruit flavoured cider – be it natural fruit, artificial flavourings or concentrate. Clogging up the industry with ‘fruit salad’ cider is something which in my eyes is only opportunistic and very dangerous. Why divert attention away from what really matters – apple or pear?? If Australian cider is still so new and misunderstood, why add this rooster to the hen house? Ok, so you can argue that I am just a purist, a traditionalist and am being way too picky and over protective. Believe me, I firmly believe in diversification, but these Frankenciders are a whole new kettle of fruity fish. I also have a mountain of people who agree and back me up on this sentiment. How about some investing into real cider apple orchards? Or into other styles of cider? Graft, plant, barrel ferment, bottle condition etc etc? I take my hat off to the state of Tasmania. These guys are doing it right and have the perfect model to work around. I guess the argument is you need to maintain/sustain your competitive advantage – bollocks. Selling your soul to the devil with these ciders. Remember fruit ciders are a fad, and what goes up must come down. They are a pimple on the face of the Australian Cider Industry, and have about as much credibility as corrupt Politian.
I want 2014 to be the year where I stop being asked questions like: “Have you tried that new Japanese cider?” “What’s Perry?” or “Have you tried that cider with elderberry in it?” I understand this will almost never stop, but the sorts of questions I want to begin to hear are things like “What varieties can you use for cider?” “What’s the difference between eating and cider apples?” “Can you explain the processes of making cider?” or “What foods can be match with cider?” Once people start to actually think about how their favourite cider is made, the better the understanding will be. I am a Winemaker by trade, and some of the most common questions I am asked is about the actual physical production of grapes to wine. Funnily enough, I never get asked this with cider. If I told a punter, a sommelier or a distributor that I made my wine with a concentrate imported from Chile, they would leave immediately and I would never hear from them ever again. So why does cider get away with this? The artificial flavourings and colours are enough to make you sick, let alone the higher sulphur too. There is nothing sexier or more exciting than tasting freshly pressed apple juice straight out of a rack and cloth or basket press. Just magic, and you can taste that freshness in the final product too. So why stoop on that?? (It must be real fun picking elderberries, or ginger, or what other bullshit additive, squishing or opening them up from a imported drum and flavouring your cider pfffftt!). Cider making is fun, it’s fascinating and its natural, so what’s not to love about it? Why cheat that? Something I will never understand, no matter how much someone tries to convince me.Don’t get me wrong, there a lot of producers in Australia who are kicking arse. Their ciders are complete top notch, top shelf stuff and doing the Industry proud. But there is always those bad seeds who ruin the fun and reputation for everyone else. Cider Australia is on the case and are working hard to get some law and order into the Industry. This is VERY encouraging and it's going to ruffle a few feathers, but it desperately needs to be done. Frauds will be exposed, or better yet leave the industry which would be a win/win for everyone. I am tipping 2014 to be make or break for these types of cider producers. Its survival of the fittest, and ciders made with no passion, no thought and no integrity are just fat slobs with no survival instincts whatsoever. So good riddance to them I say.
So please when you go to purchase your next cider this year, take time to read the label, or research where the cider came from. Fake or dishonest ciders can be hard to spot, but most are pretty transparent in the end. If you’re stuck for a new cider to try, swing by All About Cider from time to time and check out the latest reviews. I only ever review cider which has been made from the purist of intentions. Remember quality craft cider can be costly, but I think it’s well worth the price. It’s better for everyone, better for you, and better for the producers who slave away at their labour of love. Quality over quantity! Happy drinking!Cheers!