Wine of the Orchards

Drink of golden fire … wine of wild orchards, of russet summer, of plump red apple

-Cider With Rosie, Laurie Lee (1959)

Cider is something I try only occasionally. I like it, and its traditions and gastronomic interest are second to none in the world league of drinks, but somehow it gets left aside in favour of beer as a staple.

Still, some cider coursed our way recently. One was French, not from the west but Camargue in Provence. The second: the craft-sounding Caple Rd. from the old-established regional, Henry Westons in Herefordshire, England. The third was local, from Peller Estates in Niagara, best known as a winery.

The French one issued from Le Mas Daussan, an apple orchard which stresses organic production. You can read about it here. It had the intense perfumed notes I associate with Normandy cider. The Weston product, aged 18 months in stainless steel and wood, was rich but equable. Clearly apples of different types were blended, the west’s typical cider varieties but also probably a touch of Cox Pippin or other dessert types.

The Canadian one, No Boats on Sunday, was full of McIntosh apple character, with a good balance of sweet and sharp. The latter has hops in it too although one wouldn’t know from the taste.

While the southern Rhone mightn’t seem propice for cider, the Camargue is subjected to the mistral. Its climate is not the “baking Mediterranean” type, perhaps one reason the apples performed so well in a drink more typically associated with the Viking and Celtic pays of Atlantic France.

None of the three had brettanomyces flavours, a plus IMO. I dislike the barnyard haut goût of much farmhouse-style cider. I recall a scrumpy sold from the bar top in a paper box in London some years ago which literally stank of it. To be sure, many gastronomic specialties have tastes that objectively are unpleasant or at least must be acquired – good beer, say – but brett should be used with caution I think in (any) drink.

The mass market side of the business probably goes too far the other way – Strongbow in particular seems much blander than even 10 years ago. The big sellers in general seem sweet and simplistic but obviously a lot of people like them.

The “Mac” apple has an appealing flavour and has long been “the” Canadian variety. It hails from eastern Ontario but has long been associated with apple orchards throughout eastern Canada, and is the basis of Canadian apple juice. The flavour is bright and partially of the wild apple the Mac derives from, but without the sourness.

Quebec has an established cider industry since the 1970s. Before that it was sub rosa, farmers would make it for their own use or to sell to passers-by. It had a rough, characteristic taste, kind of cardboard-like. Some of the cheaper commercial brands in Quebec still remind me of it. The Mac flourishes in particular in the Rougement area near Montreal.

Even though each country makes a variety of cider styles, sweet, dry, flavoured, etc., there is a national imprint of flavour I think. The English and French types are close cousins. The North American ones remind me, generally, of our apple juice standard and once again the Mac profile. Varying apple types are used in Ontario, I know, but still there is something in our soils I think which confers a characteristic flavour.

Ontario must have 15 or 20 cider makers now and there is every hope the future will bring more variety and taste.