We love to travel (as you can see here, here, here and here) and when the boys get older we plan to visit the cider regions of France and Spain. Since we have yet to go on our European vacation our friends at Winesellers, Ltd. were gracious enough to provide us with several ciders several ciders from Normandy and Brittany, France and Asturias, Spain* to share with friends and family.
As the craft cider movement has been gaining steam, more European ciders have made their way to US store shelves. Many of the ciders available are from the UK, but French and Spanish ciders are increasing in popularity. We had an opportunity to sample a few Spanish and French ciders this winter at Cider Summit Chicago.
Here is how the French and Spanish ciders styles compare
Farmhouse style. Typically semi-dry with earthy and pleasantly musty flavors and aromas, with high acidity and/or tannins. Most French ciders are made using a Keeving process which removes nutrients from the juice by complexation with pectin at an early stage which allows for a long slow fermentation. Often the flavors highlight the ripeness of the fruit.
Sour, dry, often cloudy and still with a slight vinegary taste (acetification). Sidra Natural in Asturias, which is fermented naturally and bottled without filtration, is high in acid and light-bodied. To open up the cider it is typically served using the long-pour method. Basque cider is often full-bodied with smokey and savory flavors.
Daufresne is located in Normandy which, like the other regions we will highlight, is located on the Atlantic coast. We sampled two of their ciders Poire (Perry) and Brut. I would say the ciders from this cidery were by far the crowd favorite. Everyone loved the Poire (perry) which is made from small perry pears. Perry pears contain more sugars than apples and also include sorbitol which is a non-fermentable sugar. This results in perries being slightly sweeter than a comparable cider.
Perry vs. Cider
A perry is made from all pears, a cider is made from all apples. Just like eating apples are not usually used in ciders, eating pears are not usually used in perrys. Perrys are made with a perry pear, which is gritty, tannic and acidic – similar to cider apples. Where they differ is in the tannins, the perry pear tannins are typically rounder than those found in cider apples and they also have less malic acid (organic acid which contributes to the pleasantly sour taste of fruits) producing a less tart and more delicate drink.
The semi-dry Daufresne Poire is slightly bubbly with aromas of fresh pear. The very pleasant pear flavors are accented by hints of citrus and melon(think cantaloupe). The perry has a slight, refreshing acidity that lingers a bit. We served this bottle with Old Bay style grilled shrimp and the perry and shrimp were both gone before I sat down at the table.
The dry (but not bone dry) Daufresne Brut Cidre is highly drinkable, like Poire. The brut cider contains several varieties such as Bisquet, Noel des Champes, Domaine and Rambault. The cider makers blend the tart, sweet and bitter apples to produce a cider with an aroma of ripe apples. The slight effervesce enhances the slightly tart and spicy apple flavors. We served this cider with roasted broccoli.
Le Brun ciders are produced in Brittany, the region southwest of Normandy. We sampled the Organic Cider and the Brut Cider. These ciders were a bit funkier (i.e. yeastier) than the Daufresne bottles, but the sweetness levels were similar with the Organic Cider being comparable to the Poire and the two Brut ciders having a dry sweetness profile.
Both ciders start with the same base of apples – Kermerrien, Marie Menard, Douce Moen, Peau de Chien, & Douce Coetligne. The apples are aged for 3 weeks in wooden cases and pressed resulting in apple juice. The apple juice in this non-pasteurized cider is then fermented and bottled.
The Organic cider is more dry than semi-sweet, with fruity and ripe apple aromas and flavors. Tannins are present in this cider accentuating the acidity which produces a bit of sharpness on the finish. However, the tannins and acidity add to the depth of the cider.
The Brut cider is similar to the organic cider but it has a little more alcohol and therefore a little less sugar. This results in a dry cider which also the tannins and acidity of the Organic cider coupled with woodsy notes. We paired both of these ciders with strongly spiced chicken – such as jerk or smoked chicken.
Sidra Natural, a traditional Asturias cider, and Limited Production Sidra Espumante, a semi-dry sparkling cider, are from Sidra Asturiana Mayador, a cidery in Asturias, Spain; a region southwest of Brittany. Both ciders contain acidic, sweet and sour Asturias apples and are produced in the traditional “en rama” style in which the cider is fermented in chestnut barrels and unfiltered.
The Sidra Natural still cider is cloudy with a golden color. The cider is very dry with sour and slightly vinegary flavors. The sour apple flavors are accented with notes of citrus (mainly lemon and grapefruit) and floral. The Sidra Espumante is sparkling and has a bright copper color. Aromas of apple and wood shine through with this cider. The acidity and tannins on this semi-dry are very light, but there is a long finish. We paired both of these ciders with our cheese plates, which included goat cheese (which paired very well with the Sidra Natural) and a Jerk-seasoning laced cheese (which paired very well with the Sidra Espumante).
*Disclaimer: We typically buy most of the ciders we review, however, these were graciously provided to us by Winesellers. Their generosity in no way affects our review process.