PlumpJack Wine & Spirits brings you the beer club tasting notes for October. This month, we’re taking a quick break from beer to feature two apple ciders. Dupont’s is a traditional Norman cider (as in Normandy, France) with protected designation of origin status. The second bottle, West County’s Redfield, is a rose-hued varietal cider from the New World (Western Mass., on the Vermont border, to be exact). Each is a delicious sip of the orchard and a great partner at the autumn dinner table.
Rich Higgins, Master Cicerone
Cidre Bouché Brut de Normandie 2014 Domaine Dupont, Victot-Pontfol, Normandy, France 5.5% ABV
The Norman countryside is filled with dairy cows, rolling pasture, and orchards full of apple and pear trees. For centuries, farmers have been making ciders and perries from the fruit and pairing it with dishes full of cheese and cream. Calvados and Pays d’Auge are two sub-regions of central Normandy, and both are famous also for their apple and pear brandies, known collectively as Calvados, distilled from cider and perry. The French government has recognized the cider from this green, fertile region of France as having tradition, terroir, and quality, and has protected its heritage and future with an AOC — appellation d’origine controllee — to regulate its production and promote its uniqueness. Etienne Dupont was one of the principal boosters of the AOC designation
has been producing ciders and Calvados under the guidance of a Dupont family member since 1887. They grow 13 varieties of apples, categorizing each as either bitter, bittersweet, sweet, or acid. They celebrate Pays d’Auge terroir, describing the area’s soil as nutrient-poor and full of chalk, clay, and marl, which produces small, intense fruit. (More generous soil would yield bigger, less-concentrated fruit filled with water.) Cidre Bouché Brut de Normandie is the producer’s entry-level cider, a tasty, quaffable, sparkling cider. They also produce cider aged in oak, fortified sweet ciders, and Calvados. For the Brut de Normandie, they harvest and press estate-grown apples, then make a blend that is 80% juice from “bittersweet” apples and 20% juice from “acid” (sour) apples. In another nod to terroir, they ferment the juice with indigenous yeasts; that is, the yeast or “bloom” that naturally resides on the apple skins. After fermentation, they bottle-condition the cider, bottling it with live yeast that will produce the carbonation and more fermentation flavors directly inside the bottle. In French, bouchon means “cork,” and cidre bouché refers to this cider that is “corked” or “under cork.” The combination of live yeast in the bottle, the cork packaging, and single-vintage dating (2014, in our case), allows for the cider to age, mellow, and cellar, attaining a slightly damp, musty, leathery note that is complex and très français. (French farmhouse beers, or bières de garde, are known for this character, as well.) The cider drinks with complexity but accessibility. It has residual sweetness — about 5% apple fructose by weight — which the Duponts liken to the apple-y, caramelly flavors of another local specialty: the baked apple dessert called tarte tatin.
Cidre Bouché Brut de Normandie pours a rich honey yellow beneath a tempest of frothy white foam. The initial foam subsides, but a persistent stream of perlage continues to bubble forth. Scents of fruit, flowers, and bread rise from the glass: a Norman bouquet of baked apple, anise, meyer lemon, and bready, yeasty sparkling wine. The palate is off-dry, offering a pleasant nectar sweetness that softens the apples’ acidity and slight bitterness as well as the carbonation’s tingle. The French prize the flavor of noyaux, the meaty nut at the center of an apricot pit; this cider exhibits flavors of noyaux and bread dough from the wisps of spent yeast and apple lees residing at the bottom of the bottle. Slight dampness and mustiness show a bit of this cider’s age. Rather than showing bracing, vibrant apple freshness, this bottle has mellowed and gained complexity with age. Subtle tannins linger on the tongue, offering a structure and astringency that beg for another sip of this enjoyable cider. Pair it at the start of a meal with charcuterie and cheese — the more French and Norman the better, to appreciate the terroir: rabbit rillettes, pâte de campagne, good Camembert, Pont l’Evêque, etc. The Normans cook with cider, too, enjoying it in cidery cream sauces to accompany chicken or seafood. Sautéing some skin-on chicken in butter and shallots, then deglazing the pan with cider and simmering with some cream and fresh thyme would be a simple, delicious partner for a glass of Dupont cidre.
Move a family of Northern California winemakers to the Berkshire mountains, and you get a family with a love of the land and a passion for flavor, along with a thirst for grapes that can’t be quenched. Missing their vineyard, the Terry and Judith Maloney, along with their son, Field, got some tips from their rural neighbors and tried their hand at fermenting apples into cider. From their first harvest in 1972, they were hooked, and by 1984, they made their first commercial sales. Legally registered as a winery, these cider revivalists claim to be the first US winery to specialize in hard cider.
Their orchards have expanded in the ensuing years, and now with 1400 apple trees, they produce a handful of varietal ciders that they ferment and bottle in their farmhouse cellar. A varietal cider, just like a varietal wine, is a cider made from a single apple variety, showcasing all the nuances of that apple. Most cideries make blends, using the juice of several different apples to get tannic structure from one, fermentable sugars from another, bright acidity from yet another, and a variety of flavors from all of them. Most cider apples, as opposed to table apples that you eat out-of-hand, are too tannic and sour to be enjoyable when eaten. They can make for great cider, when allowed to ferment and age properly, which shows the cider maker’s skill. Redfield is an apple variety that is known in the cider world for its crimson-colored flesh, searing acidity, and bold tannins — pretty to look at it, terrible to eat, and a challenge to turn into a varietal cider. Developed in New York state in 1938, the apple is a cross between a Wolf River Apple and a Niedzwetzskayana Red Crabapple. (Obviously.)
The Maloneys make two different Redfield ciders: a Redfield varietal and a Redfield/Golden Delicious blend that’s 75% Redfield with 25% Golden Delicious; evidently, some drinkers find the Redfield to be too intense an apple to be fully tamed on its own in a bottle of cider. Your bottle of Redfield is the pure varietal, and so the Redfield’s personality (red hue, bright malic acid, firm tannins, and sweet-savory flavor) is powerfully on display in this cider. Furthermore, the Maloneys ferment it with neutral commercial yeast, rather than an indigenous yeast that might muddy the waters with its own flavors. (To taste some more of West County’s terroir, their Kingston Black varietal cider is fermented with wild yeast.) It’s not just the Redfield apple’s character that’s on display, here, but also the Maloneys’ impressive cider making skills, in order to make this Redfield so a smooth and elegant a cider, certainly not as sour and austere as some ciders can be, nor as tannic and coarse as others.
Redfield pours an elegant salmon rose color, topped with a hint of bubbly pink lace. The delicate nose shows cut apple, persimmon, grass, and chamomile, along with sweet-savory hints of roasted carrots and winter squash. It tastes clean and pure, a perfectly apple-y, refreshing juice at first. Then more intriguing flavors of chestnut, cucumber, and blood orange chime in, intermingling with the smooth acidity and firm tannins. With its restrained carbonation and savory flavors, it has less in common with most bright, zesty ciders and instead recalls an Italian rosato wine — a negroamaro rosato, perhaps. It’s delicious, complex, and shows an alluring, romantic side of cider. Pair this with grains, mushrooms, and dairy products, allowing the cider to provide savory harmony and fruity counterpoint to the pairing. Tagliatelle with creamy-mushroom sauce and truffle (either truffle oil or the real thing — November is white truffle season, after all); squash ravioli with chestnuts and brown butter; a grilled cheese sandwich on sourdough; pizza with mozzarella, tomatoes, and good salame; or even a quesadilla with queso fresco, chicken, and cilantro would all be great partners with this cider.