Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Gwatkin - Medium Farmhouse Yarlington Mill

It’s not every day you can say you get to relive something off your cider bucket list. By this I mean I got the opportunity to taste another of the Gwatkin's wonder creations from Herefordshire, England. If you can remember, I recently reviewed their single varietal Kingston Black. The cider blew my socks off with its character and complexity. Here’s a snippet of the introduction.
“There are things in life which can really get you excited. It gets the juices flowing, and consistently ‘boils your potato’. But to get overwhelmed, humbled and giggling like a school kid can most often be rare. So when the opportunity to taste and review cider from Herefordshire producer, Gwatkin arose, I definitely experienced one of ‘those’ moments. The thought of tasting the traditional farmhouse ciders of Gwatkin made me nervous. I couldn’t help thinking, what happens if I am disappointed? Would I get down on my knees, with my arms raised and fists clenched yelling “WHY!!!!!” towards the heavens?  But at the risk of sounding like a true cider dork, I see the Gwatkin ciders as real, custodian cider”. 

The single varietal dry farmhouse Kingston Black cider set the bench mark really high for me. I got to taste the Gwatkin's philosophy first hand. Personally, this was unbelievably special as Australian cider lovers don’t have access to this type of real cider. Along with the Kingston Black, I also recently got the opportunity to taste their Medium Farmhouse Yarlington Mill cider. Yarlington Mill you say??.....well.
The bittersweet Yarlington Mill, characterised by its yellow colour, pinkish blush and red stripes, is one of the most commonly planted cider apple across the world. The apple variety was discovered in 1898 in the wall of a water mill in Yarlington, Somerset. Outside the UK, the variety has widespread popularity with large plantings in New England and the Pacific Northwest of America, Quebec in Canada, and Victoria and Tasmania in Australia. The success of Yarlington Mill can be linked to its ability to adapt to surrounding conditions, and be a reliable and productive bearer (although fireblight is its arch enemy!). It's later ripening in the UK, with picking tending to be around late October to early November. The popularity amongst Cidermakers is due to the strong rich flavours the apple exhibits in single varietal ciders. Lower in acid and tannins are also a common Yarlington Mill trait.

The carbonation is light, and the colour is a beautiful golden tawny. The nose hits you with bucket loads of sweet candied apple, spice, honey, raisins and cedar. Some oxidised earthy, dusty old barnyard notes add an element of layering complexity. A small waft of VA lifts the nose, along with what seems to be a whisky barrel character. All in all, superior nose. Big, broad and rich singing with wild fermented Yarlington Mill fruit. Big tick!
On tasting, you can’t help go past the thick and moreish natural sweetness. Where do I start? Toffee, spice and vanillin oak all come at you, it’s like Christmas in a bottle. These flavours funnily enough mimic a Pommeau de Normandie. There’s so much weight, with a long length of flavour and rounded structure. Acid is not so pronounced, however some fine tannins added texture. A slight metallic note is evident on the back palate, most likely brettanomyces derived. Wild ferment at its glorious best! How can so much be going on in a cider??!! Unbelievable and crazy addictive.

This is some quality cider here. Beautifully made at the Gwatkin's farm, and the Yarlington Mill fruit kicks butt. Yes the cider is a little lower in acid and tannin, but that’s the variety at play. Drinking this makes me want to pack my bags and head over to England again but this time for a cider vintage/harvest! It makes you want to get your hands dirty in apple pomace, sip away at freshly pressed juice and fill old barrels. Fantastic cider, made by true Cidermakers. Here’s cheers Gwatkin's!!     

Producer: Gwatkin Cider Company Ltd
Country: England (Abbey Dore, Herefordshire)
Alcohol: 7.0%


Monday, 16 March 2015

Wilmot Hills Vineyards - 2014 Dry Cyder

When it comes to tasting new ciders, I love to go off the beaten track. I make it my mission to find ‘diamonds in the rough’, where quality boutique cider lurks in the shadows of the big mainstream spotlight. These artisan brands most often than not suffer from lower exposure, and certainly aren’t as well-known as popular commercial Australian ciders. But if you dig hard enough, what you’ll find is dedicated Cidermakers who have been producing cider back when cider was shunned and not taken seriously. We are talking the 80’s and 90’s in Australia, when the popularity dive post 70’s became apparent. However, in this time of hardship, cider apples where being planted and cider was still being produced. Fast forward to 2015, these cider producers are still perfecting their craft and now seeing the rewards. Rewards? Well people are now buying and enjoying cider! 

Wilmot Hills Orchard
One of these producers I talk about is John and Ruth Cole from Wilmot Hills Vineyards in Tasmania. They are situated in the scenic Wilmot Valley, which is just a short 40 minute drive from Cradle Mountain. Here, John and Ruth along with their cider produce wines, fruit wines and spirits including calvados (apple brandy). All the fruit is grown on their property, with over 20 years of experience. The Cole’s produce cider in their small cidery/distillery using fruit from their orchards. They hand mill the apples and press both in a rack and cloth ‘cheese’ press, and wine basket press. Although John describes the cheese method as “tedious and messy, though yielding more juice”. Their cider apples were planted in 1994, and the orchard now boasts varieties like Yarlington Mill, Somerset Red Streak, Bulmers Norman, Improved Foxwhelp, Sweet Alford and Sweet Coppin. In 1995, the Cole’s also planted other unique varieties like Claville Blanc de’Hiver, Duke of Clarence, Egleton Styre and trusty old Kingston Black. The Orchard also includes many more interesting varieties which go into their cider and calvados. John uses the neutral EC1118 yeast, most commonly known as a rigorous Champagne yeast to ferment his ciders. 

Milling in the cidery
So you can see why I was so intent on getting this cider in my possession. I was actually meant to get a bottle to review in the new Tasmania's Table book, but the cider wasn’t ready yet. Bummer! But once it was, John gladly sent me one - much to my delight. The reason I LOVE producers like this are that they are old school. They know cider. Experienced producers like John and Ruth are who I look for. People with a cider brain and a story. Who do it for the passion, and make it the right way. They are not caught up in fancy marketing, and gimmicky/quirky advertising. Just honest cider which has been made for many years.
The cider comes in a 750mL Riesling shaped bottle, with a stelvin cap closure. The presentation is beautiful, with a spectacular art work being the focal point. Now I usually review a cider, then you the reader gets the idea if I am digging it, or not. But today, I am coming straight out with it…….I LOVE THIS CIDER. 

Colour, colour, colour! What a sensational colour. A beautiful golden orange hue encases the glass, likely arising from oxidatively handled cider apples. The cider shows no activity being still. So now the fun bit. The nose is a concoction of freshness, complexity and fermented apple goodness. Lovely toasty notes and orange marmalade are intoxicating, along with fresh green apples and floral shine. Deeper down, lychees, bubble gum and hints of lemon balance well with a woody earthiness. How can a nose be so beautiful? My notes read “an absolute fruit bowl”. This is some serious gear, showing tonnes of personality and purity.
Apple pulp after pressing
On tasting, what hit me was the palate weight for a dry, still cider. Luscious and oh so generous. The mid palate juiciness was super impressive. There was not a huge amount of tannins which I was expecting, perhaps oxidised out. But the tannins and slight bitterness from the cider apples added the texture I yearn so much for in a good cider. Sweets, bittersweets and bittersharps signing together harmoniously. There was a nice lick of alcoholic heat (9%), with a rich nutty finish. I liken this to a quality apfelwein in structure and taste. Reminds me a lot of the Weidmann and Groh Trierer Weinapfel which I have reviewed on All About Cider. This is quality Australian cider! Arguably, this cider is creeping into apple wine territory with its wine like character and higher alcohol.

This is a rare gem of a cider in a sea of mainstream saturation and standardisation. The cider takes me on a cider journey (corny I know), as it tastes so traditional and you feel like you're walking through an orchard in Herefordshire. This is my type of cider. Honest, uncomplicated and unpretentious. Made for the right reasons, by real Cidermakers. Bliss.  

Producer: Wilmot Hills Vineyards
Country: Australia (Wilmot, Tasmania)
Alcohol: 8.4%

Rating: 19.5 out of 20


Saturday, 21 February 2015

Circle Cider

Well here’s a funny little story I must share. A normal, everyday guy named Nick Howard quits his day job and starts playing around with a bit of cider in Swindon, Wiltshire……...yes Wiltshire!! He begins sourcing surplus apples from run down, derelict orchards and trees from random Swindonite’s backyards. He fast gives the sad and sorry suburban trees a new lease of life, and gives the fruit purpose again. The cider which is made from this fruit then makes its way back to the orchards/trees owners – hence Circle Cider. From humble beginnings of a mere 40Ls in his first year, Nick and Circle Cider now produce up to 6000 litres of ethically made Swindon grown cider.


I absolutely love, adore, respect this concept. What a fantastic initiative which restores old fruit trees and gives them new life. Makes me wish I could do something like this here in South Australia. On the back of the Circle Cider labels is reads – “WE WANT YOUR APPLES, if you are near Swindon and have surplus apples, we would love to hear from you. Help us is our quest to make the best of what we already have”. Brilliant, absolutely bloody brilliant in my eyes. Circle Cider is currently in the process of securing distribution of their ciders throughout Australia, so let’s hope this is successful……we need more hand crafted English Cider to take it up to our Aussie interpretations!  
The Circle Cider range includes Cat’s Tongue (dry), Roundabout (Medium) and Butchers Boy (Sweet), all packaged in 500mL bottles. All hand made, and hand crafted by Nick himself in Swindon.

Cats Tongue – Dry (6.1%)

Nice amount of foamy fizzy on pouring into the glass, with a slightly cloudy orange hue. A real distinct soapy, almost French cider apple nose being floral with a lemony twang. It mirrors a Pays de Auge Brut with ease. Quite a complex nose, rich and generous and full of ripe cider apples. Beautifully rustic, right up my alley.
The palate is quite dry and somewhat sour, but the powdery tannins make it a real joy. This is what I love to see in a dry cider. There’s a decent amount of rustic apple flavour here, with an impressive heavier body. A little beery in the finish, with a nice long orange marmalade length. One of the better dry’s I’ve had in recent times.  

The Cat’s Tongue is a damn nice and refreshing dry. Stacked full of flavour and texture which I love. A modest 6.1 per cent makes this a wonderful session drink. Thoroughly enjoyed this.


Roundabouts – Medium (5.6%)
Quite a low level of carbonation here, with just the faintest bead in the glass. Filtered clear, yet still retains the orange hue. The nose is shrouded with wafts of reduction – she’s a bit pongy!! Grubby nose, with lighter hints of green apple. Perhaps made with old, gnarly low nitrogen trees/orchards?? There is some spiced apple aromas lurking in the background, which makes me think if the H2S wasn’t there, the nose would be sublime. (After 5 minutes swirling in the glass, the reduced notes blew off to reveal spiced cinnamon apple, clove and citrus – not too bad after all!)

A medium sweetness welcomes you on the first sip. Small hints of bitter tannins here, with a puckering, dry finish. Not as flavoursome as the dry, and the 5.8 per cent alcohol seems a touch low. A watered down and somewhat flabby finish, but easy drinking and perfect served draft. I could see this cider being popular with regular cider drinkers (minus the reductive nose).

Although not as impressive as the Cat’s Tongue, still a nicely sculpted cider. A couple little minor blemishes, but still a pretty solid cider. On a hot day, this would be in its element.

Butchers Boy – Sweet (7.0%)    

Almost still, with just the faintest bubble on pouring. Golden orange hue again. I may be wrong, but I am getting the feeling all three ciders are the same apples, but with differing amounts of residual and alcohol in them. A touch grubby again in the nose, but with the same spiced apple, rustic edge and lemony twang. This is a nice, bold and rich nose which reminds me of pure pressed out apple juice. Could sniff it for hours. Oddly enough, It also reminds me of the Le Pere Jules Pommeau de Normandie which I reviewed a year or so ago. Oaky, rich and almost raisin like in statue. Lovely.
A beautiful ripe apple sweetness dominates the flavoursome palate. Drying, powdery tannins take over the mid palate and continue on to the finish. A Splenda type mouthfeel stays with you once you have swallowed the cider. The small amount of carbonation adds that lick of excitement which lifts the palate. Nice and fresh with solids apple flavours. There is no sign of the 7 per cent alcohol, which makes me think this cider could slip down way too easily. Quite delicious really. The beauty is the sweetness never gets cloying. Funny how I find Aussie sweets get too sickly sweet, and traditional sweets don’t. Dessert vs. Cider apple perhaps??

A lovely interpretation of a sweet cider. Has everything I like to see, and has a high drinkability. The nose just needs to be cleaned up a touch, then this would be a killer cider (especially in the Australian climate).


Well there you have it. A great opportunity to go through the Circle Cider range. Really nice booze here, with a lot of potential. The bummer was the pongy noses, but these did blow off. Perhaps some CU++ needs to be used? I can really see this brand fitting into mainstream cider in Australia and competing well. They all have that drinkability which Australian’s look for. They are not typical, bland, boring contemporary Aussie moderns, but they are also not full on, confronting farmhouse traditional's. They are the perfect balance between the two and consumers will enjoy that.

Let’s hope we can see them in Australia soon! Thank you to Iva and Nathaniel (Australian Distributors) for giving me the opportunity to taste these ciders.

Producer: Circle Cider
Country: England (Swindon, Wiltshire)


Sunday, 8 February 2015

Three Farms Apple Cider

Over the past few months, I have been composing cider reviews for the soon to be released 2nd edition of Tasmania’s Table. I have luckily tasted and reviewed around fifteen or so ciders from all corners of the Apple Isle. I received an email from the editor asking if I could sneak in one final review for this newly released cider. The cider turned out to be Three Farms Cider, to which I had no knowledge of. Long story short, it was a collaboration between three farming families. The fruit for the cider was sourced from the Huon Valley, and made at Winemaking Tasmania. The cider was recently an added option at the Bangor Wine and Oyster Shed in Dunalley.  
On opening, the cider was super (and I mean SUPER) light in colour almost representing water…..not good in my eyes. However, the carbonation was light…….good in my eyes. Through my experience, the nose had that rich, ripe red floral fruit character which I find typical of many commercial Huon Valley ciders. It also displayed a green sour sob angle with a binding citrus twang. Overall, the nose was extremely representative of a basic/simple commercial dessert apple cider. Possibly too simple and one dimensional for my liking. But what would you expect from a cider made with cultured yeasts, reductive handling and sterile filtration? Plenty of this style out in the market at the moment. 
For me the real let down was the light palate structure. Somewhat confused, chalky and lacking in any sort of flavour. I remember as a kid we had a creek by our house, and in winter thousands of sour sobs would grow by the banks. I would pick a sour sob and chew on the stalk, and it would leave you with a green tart taste in my mouth. The Three Farms Cider reminded me of this. Acidity, green and lacking in flavour. Sadly, the flavour fell quite short, with no obvious back palate length. Yes, there was a touch of sweetness, but that diminished into the green malic acid. The carbonation was perfect though, and the 4.2 per cent alcohol made for easy drinking.   

To successfully compete in the ultra-competitive Aussie modern medium market, your cider better be chock-a-block full of flavour and class! Sadly, this cider was down the lower end of the scale, and I find is swamped in quality by its simple Winemaking Tasmania made cousins. Most importantly, the cider was clean and fault free and was drinkable. I don’t often comment on labels, as I know firsthand what it is like to design a brand, and proudly see in on a product you have invested so much time and money in. But with all due respect, the label is a big confusing, unfinished, Incredible Hulk mush up. Sorry guys, not a fan at all. However, you don’t judge a book by its cover! Personally I think this cider has a little ‘me too’ about it, and I firmly believe there are far better examples of Tassie cider. But I applaud them for using real Tasmania fruit, and giving it a go.

Producer: Bangor Wine and Oyster Shed (Three Farms Cider)
Country: Australia (Huon Valley, Tasmania)
Alcohol: 4.2%

Rating: 10 out of 20