Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Gwatkin - Dry Farmhouse Kingston Black

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 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 as real, custodian cider producers. 
My interest in Gwatkin begun some years ago, when I sat down and watched Oz Clarke and James May’s Big Wine Adventure. In one episode (which can be viewed on the Gwatkin website), the two men travelled to the Moorhampton Park farm in Abbey Dore. Denis Gwatkin kindly showed them around the farm, and discussed the art of cider making. After watching this, my infatuation for this cider brand prospered. As what I saw was cider making at its rawest and purist form – which is my philosophy in cider making. So to finally be able to hold a cider in my hand here in South Australia from this respected producer, really was a cider dream come true.   

If you’re unaware, Kingston Black is a very traditional cider apple variety, originating in Somerset many centuries ago. This variety is king - pure and simple. It falls in the bittersharp classification, and is perfectly suited to produce single varietal, vintage ciders. This classic variety is beginning to pop up in drips and drabs across Australia too, with a small number of producers using it in their ciders. But Kingston black is notorious for being a slow barer, so if you want to grow them, you better get the trees in pronto!
Now for the exciting bit, the review! I want to first begin by making special mention of the presentation of the cider. The label is beautifully configured, with a large picture of a very traditional horse drawn apple stone mill crushing up apples. It really gives you a sense of how cider making was carried out all those years ago – so primitive but so effective. Spectacular art!

The cider was filtered clear and shone a pleasant golden brown. On opening, the carbonation did foam out the bottle, but settled down fairly quickly without any real loss - thank god! But on pouring, the cider foamed up nicely, to a soft mousse. The nose offered up a beautiful mix of fresh apple aromas, and wild ferment funk characters. Very rich, sweet, toffee apples burst out of the glass with impressive clarity. Some layered farmyard notes, combined with old cellar/wooden barn dustiness and leather added stunning complexity. There was also less evident notes of volatile acidity, and yeastiness which lurked in the background. This nose was busy, with the Kingston Blacks really showing off their varietal power with gusto.
The palate was a beast, with many layers and added dimensions giving the mouth a sensory overload. The bittersharp fruit offered up a great balance of focused up-front dryness and acidity, combined with mouth puckering tannins. This led the cider to have a medium weighted palate and balanced structure, which was shrouded with rich apple flavours. The fruit definition was impressive, handling the seven per cent alcohol very well. Some beautiful farmhouse/wild fermented characters of earthiness and dustiness added life and interest. A beery/malty aftertaste was evident, along with a distinct metallic note on the back of the tongue. The Kingston Black’s definitely flexed their muscles on the palate, offering up beautifully balanced tannins and rich addictive fruit flavours.    

This Gwatkin Kingston Black really highlights why I love wild fermented ciders. The added depth you can achieve is so impressive and it eliminates the production of standardised and sterilised ciders with simple characters. Yes it can be a little funky, weird and confronting but that’s why it offers up so much. I liken it to a weird mate who’s just a little off centre, but that’s why you love them. The Kingston Black does handle this traditional method perfectly, hence the esteemed reputation as king of cider.
So was I disappointed? Oh heck no! It was everything I was hoping it would be. The great thing is I have the Gwatkin Medium Yarlington Mill still to try too! But I was really humbled to drink this cider, as it felt like I was drinking history. Something we lack a little in Australia. Overall, this Kingston Black was beautiful and stunning, and definitely a highlight of my cider tasting experience.   

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


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