I said back in January that 2020 was the year for Fine Cider to really take off and I was not wrong. We’ve seen a drove of producers of all shapes and sizes, turning their hands to making one-off and/or unique 750 ml creations. Some of them months and even years in the making. The movements’ supporting event, the Cider Salon in June, delivered as promised; bigger, bolder and even more offerings than last year.
So with all that in mind, I’m setting out my top 10 must-try Fine Ciders and Perries this year. A couple of notes/themes; firstly you’ll notice there’s a couple of “rosé” ciders on the list, a trend starting to pick up this year, but I assure you these are nothing like the ones you’ll find in the supermarket. Secondly, you’ll see there are a few representatives of the keeving method and that’s because a lot of producers are starting to revive and use it which is great, but also it produces a natural sweetness that I think will appeal to a lot of drinkers who favour the sweeter end of the taste spectrum. Which let’s face it, represent a big slice of the market at the moment.
The Cider Critic’s Top 10 Fine Ciders to try in 2020
So, the top 10 then…
Find & Foster – Petillant Naturel 2018 (5%)
Polly and Mat have stormed onto the fine cider scene with their exquisite ciders crafted from some of Devon’s forgotten orchards. Their ciders are “influenced by vintage variation, so no two years will taste the same”. This naturally sparkling blend from Huxham orchard is rich, ripe and appley with hints of spice. This is definitely a drink to toast and start an evening or celebration with, pair with olives, cold meats and crispbreads.
Pilton – Pomme Pomme (4.8%)
A small pre-release taste at CraftCon was all I needed to know this was fantastic. Keeved cider expertly blended with quince. Striking crystal clear gold coloured with scents of tropical fruit (think guava and cantaloupe) along with vanilla, caramel and a hint of apricot. There is initial slight acidity on the palate which flows into that wonderful keeved sweetness that reminds you of biting into a sweet apple full of rich apple skin. The finish brings astringency that dries the side of your mouth with a tinge of bitterness. Hats off to Martin, this is a masterpiece, which craves pairing with succulent white fish or seafood paella.
Ganley & Naish – Rakefire (4.6%)
Andy very kindly gave me a bottle of Rakefire at CraftCon back in April. I liked it so much, it was one of my top three to look out for at the Cider Salon. The aroma is woody, with scents of tobacco. There is almost zero acidity in the taste and gentle mellow bitterness from the tannins which gives the mouthfeel a robust level of astringency. The finish has a very subtle sweetness that peaks through as a fruity little hit. A wonderful and very exclusive (500 bottles) step into “fine cider” for Andy and a brilliant demonstration of what Somerset cider is all about. This is a great BBQ cider to be savoured with chargrilled meats.
Nightingale – Songbird 2016 (7%)
Made entirely from wild fermented Egremont Russet apples, this is super limited to only 600 bottles. Released at Cider Salon back in June it shows how a single variety eating apple cider can compete in terms of complexity with the cider apples. It’s entirely different, don’t expect bold bitter tannins, but instead savour beautiful floral notes and green apple flavours. Vegetarian fare would complement this cider perfectly, perhaps goats cheese, spinach, mushroom and caramelised onion.
Little Pomona – Brut Cremant NV (8%)
Four years in the making this is an exceptional cider. Created from different wild fermented vintages, some in the tank, some in barrel, all brought together to undergo a secondary fermentation in the bottle over two years, hand riddled and disgorged à la volée. This is a glorious showcase of craftsmanship and expert blending and in my opinion a drink to be savoured on its own. There is so much depth and complexity to explore that I wouldn’t pair it with food on your first try.
Ross on Wye Cider & Perry – Raison D’etré 2017 (8.4%)
Last year’s release (2016 press) was superb, encapsulating the essence of Broome Farm and everything the Johnson family try to offer in a cider. A bold, dry and rich representation of the fruit and terroir. I haven’t tried this year’s release yet as it’s not set free until the Ross Cider Festival at the end of August, but I’ve booked my ticket and will be first in the queue for tasters. Build on those intense tannins and some spice with a curry dish. Perhaps a lamb Rogan Josh, or a vegetable kofta curry.
Sassy – Rose (3%)
This is Cidre with a modern twist, made in Normandy from a blend of almost 20 organically grown apple varieties. Including the pink fleshed Geneva Crab which gives this drink it’s colour. It tastes of crisp green apple, combined with berries and plum. Tapas is your friend with this one, pair with Fried Calamari, Patatas Bravas and/or Padrón Peppers.
Once Upon a Tree – Dabinett & Pinot 2018 (7.5%)
Cider mixed with wine?? Do not pre-judge this one, because it works on so many levels. Taste these two fruits in liquid form separately and you wouldn’t think of pairing the two, but the tannins of both the Dabinett apples and Pinot Noire grapes are a marriage made in heaven. I had the chance to sample it during my visit earlier this year; it smells so juicy, is silky smooth and full of rich berry fruit coupled with crisp but already mellow tannins. I think Greek cuisine would pair wonderfully with this one, think Lamb Souvlaki or Moussaka.
Hawkes – Sole Trader (5.4%)
Roberto and his band of cider makers have knocked it out of the park with this one. Swapping out Discovery apples used in the previous version (which was already great) for Braeburn and then finding a very tasty yeast was inspired. The result rivals a sparkling white wine, with notes of tropical fruits and a very delicate sweetness. Grilled fish and fresh vegetables would go very well with this one.
Halfpenny Green – Florin (5.5%)
Tony is back and better than ever. Last year saw a devastating fire damage Tony’s equipment, but he has rebuilt and this year launched a whole series of fine ciders. I’ve picked the Florin which I first tried at CraftCon back in April. Glorious Amber colour, sumptuous sweetness and full of complexity. I’m going sweet on sweet with this one and would pair with a crisp tarte Tatin, for a glorious dessert.
Whichever you choose, you will definitely enjoy. Wassail.
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