What happens when a winemaker gets their hands on a bunch of apples? Obviously they start making hard cider!
Well, at least 5 different winemakers have made cider because I recently tasted 7 ciders from 5 different winemakers. We’re gonna talk about the best 3 that we tasted...
But first … why make cider? I have no definitive answer to why it is a trend to see a winemaker craft a cider but I’m guessing that, at least, part of it has to do with wanting something refreshing and low alcohol to drink during the long and arduous hours of harvest and actually making the wine. There is an old adage that it takes a whole lot of great beer to make great wine and maybe these winemakers wanted to have cider instead? Who knows why but the end result of a winemaker making cider can be pretty dang tasty.
Like the Floréal Cider, the number one and unanimous winner of the blind tasting, from winemaker Nate Ready of Hiyu Winefarm in Oregon. It was the funkiest of the bunch but simply bursting with an appleyness that was entirely intoxicating and welcoming. A blend of 15 apples (the cidery has planted over 50 apple varieties and will be using more of them in the next versions), the cider is so far advanced - in this wine tasters opinion - from all the other ciders that it’s set the new benchmark for cider. This is more inline with ciders from Normandy than anywhere else but beyond that it was just delicious. Bone dry and fresh and beautifully complex. Nate is a stellar winemaker (he’s also a Master Sommelier) and there is a carefulness and exactness to this cider that is way more wine-like than anything else tasted.
The runners-up in the tasting were the sibling team from Alter Ego: the Guardian Angel and The Brute. Both are made by winemakers Anne Hubatch and Nate Hall in Portland. These are both more traditional in terms of sweetness and style - if you’re looking for something more inline with modern cider, go for these - they are some of the best ciders I’ve had in a longtime. Again, there is a deliciousness and exactness in these ciders than in most modern ciders. The Guardian Angel is interesting … it’s a traditional cider blended with pomegranates and blueberries and has a defined berry sweetness to it. The Brute (again, not bone dry) is completely crushable cider … I could see needing about 15 of these on a hot day! Overall, while these might not be at the same quality level as the Floréal, they are super good.
Of all the ciders we tasted there was a definite difference from ciders made by either cidermakers or brewers. Overall, there is more ‘thereness’ to the winemaker made ciders: they taste like a place. The California ciders were fruitier and fuller (just like Cali apples) and the Oregon ciders were more restrained fruitwise but more complex than the others. Also these ciders had layers of complexity that set themselves away from traditional cider: they were deeper, longer, stronger, more finessed. Thats not to say that trad. cider can’t be all those things but all 7 of these ciders just had that more going on.
Next time you have a longing or hankering for cider; look for a cider made by a winemaker. You’re gonna pay more for it but it’s also going to be something of much higher quality and style that the added cost is borne out in the end by the pure goodness present.