Fall has turned cold. It’s definitely football weather.
And apple cider weather, too. Apples are at their best this time of year, so I eat many more than in other seasons. Cider, of course, is not as perishable – that’s why cider was made originally. And I don’t mean sweet, pasteurized ciders either, but good artisanal hard ciders.
There was a cider pairing at this month’s inaugural Virginia Wine Summit in Richmond. It was the last of eight blind pairings pitting Virginia wines against the world in a knock-off of the famous Judgment of Paris tasting organized in 1976 by Steven Spurrier, who was the keynote speaker. The first cider was all over the place – or at least, all over my palate – a bit bubblegummy and simple, pleasant enough for a sip or two. The second was crisp and clean, well focused, with a slight sweetness but great tannin and acidity that kept it balanced.
The two were Crispin, a national brand that has expanded rapidly in the last couple of years as a hard cider boomlet sweeps the nation; and Sweet Stayman from Foggy Ridge Cider, of Dugspur, Va., the operation that launched the Old Dominion’s artisanal cider movement. (It’s now up to six cideries, if that’s a word – my spellchecker doesn’t like it – with two more to open next year.)
As Bartholomew Broadbent, the British-born importer who was on the tasting panel at the Virginia Wine Summit, said of the Foggy Ridge, “This is the type of cider we like to drink in Britain. The other tastes like apple juice out of a jar.”
The Crispin has one advantage over the Foggy Ridge: It costs $8 for a pack of four 12-ounce bottles, while the Foggy Ridge is $15 for a 750 ml standard wine bottle. That means the Virginia cider costs approximately four times the national brand. Believe me, though – it was four times better.
In August, I had the pleasure of visiting Diane Flynt at Foggy Ridge and learning about her efforts to renew heritage cider apple varieties and produce cider the traditional way – once a year, like wine. (Foggy Ridge labels carry lot numbers denoting the vintage.) I also visited Albemarle CiderWorks near Charlottesville, where I learned much of the history of cider in Virginia from Charlotte Shelton. For more on this encouraging trend and Diane Flynt’s explanation of why cider is more like wine than beer, read my feature on Virginia’s artisan ciders, which ran October 3 in The Washington Post.
So now that baseball season is over, chill out with a glass of artisan cider. It also is a great drink to pair with spicy foods and Asian cuisines that can be difficult on wine. Hmm, come to think of it, Thanksgiving is only a month away. Time to stock up …