Friday, January 29, 2016

Ciders of Spain: Asturian Cider (Part 2)

(Get some background info on Asturian cider & the Ciders of Spain in Part 1 of this two-part article)

The Ciders of Spain tasting consisted of eight ciders, from four different Asturian producers,  presenting some of the diversity which can be found in that region. The tasting took place at Pastoral Artisan Pizza, Kitchen, and Bar, which provided some snacks to pair with the ciders. Paul W. Marks Co. also supplied some Spanish cheeses, which were presented with all of the fixings, including some membrillo. Cider and cheese is a no-brainer food pairing, and I certainly love the wonderful cheeses of Spain.

Chef de Cuisine Jeff Messer created a delicious wild mushroom pizza and maybe a cider isn't the first pairing you would consider for such a dish. However, there are good reasons why some of these ciders were a killer combination with the pizza. Umami is the fifth taste, often described as meaty or savory. There are a few different sources of umami and mushrooms are a rich source of guanylate, giving them a strong umami taste. Now, some of these Spanish ciders, especially the more traditional styles, possess significant amounts of glutamic acid, which also provides a strong umami taste. And when you combine two foods with umami, especially from different sources, it creates a synergistic effect that intensifies the umami taste. And that happened here, with the mushroom pizza and more traditional ciders. Just wow in your mouth, a savory explosion of flavor.

Sidra Fanjul extends back to the late 19th century, when the maternal grandfather of Don José Ramón Fanjúl Palacio established a cidery known as El Roblón.  In 1944, Antón de la Sierra changed the name of the cidery to the family name, and he passionately defended the rights of Asturian ciders, battling taxes and helping to establish the first Cider Press Association of Asturias. When Anton died, his brothers took over the cider and decided in the 1970s to auction it. Fortunately, Anton´s sister, Josefa Fanjul, made the first and only bid, winning the cidery, and then handing over management of the business to her son Jose Antonio. Jose helped to restore and preserve some of the old equipment, eventually turning it over to his own son, Carlos, in the 1980s.

The Fanjul Sidra Natural (about $9.50/700ml) is a traditional, unfiltered sidra (with a 6% ABV) made from a blend of Asturian apples, such as Clara, Blanquina, Raxo, De la Riega, Xuanina, Perico, Verdialona, Regona and Durona de Tresali. One of its only non-traditional matters is that the sidra is fermented in oak rather than traditional chestnut. This is a dry cider, with a strong earthiness, intriguing apple flavors, some nutty accents and some tartness on the finish.  Such a delicious and compelling cider, and very different from most American-made ciders. I love its strong umami element, seeing some similarity to Kimono/Yamahai Sake. It was a superb pairing with the mushroom pizza and ended up being one of my Top Three Sidras of this tasting.

Sidra Viuda de Angelón (the "widow of Angelon") was founded in 1947 by Alfredo Ordoñez Onís at the orchards of La Alameda. In 1978 the cidery was moved to La Teyera, Nava, home of  the annual Asturian Cider Competition and the Museo de la Sidra de Asturias. It is still a family-owned and operated artisan cidery.

The 1947 Sidra de Nueva Expresion (about $13/750ml) is a petillant semi-dry cider (with a 6% ABV) made in a more modern style. It is a filtered sidra, made from estate apples, and possesses a strong, appealing apple aroma. On the palate, it presents as mostly dry, with only the slightest hint of sweetness, with a mild effervescent, enough to be a nice palate cleanser. It has delicious apple flavors with a lengthy pleasing finish. This was also one of my Top Three Sidras of the tasting.

The Viuda de Angelon Sidra Brut (about $16/750ml) is an off-dry sparkling dry cider (with a 6% ABV) that is produced by the Charmat method, creating the bubbly. It presents as mostly dry, with only a hint of sweetness, but many more bubbles than the 1947. It has a smooth, apple taste that will please many cider lovers. Personally, I preferred the milder effervescence of the 1947.

The Viuda de Angelon Sidra De Pera (about $3.50/330ml-available in a 4-pack) is a sparkling off-dry pear cider, a perry, with a 5.2% ABV. Using estate grown pears, this is an impressive cider, with a harmonious blend of earthiness with subtle pear flavor and a mild effervescence. It is dry and refreshing, with more depth than most perry ciders I have tasted before. Absolutely delicious and it too went very well with the mushroom pizza. It earns a spot in my Top Three Sidras of the tasting.

The Viuda de Angelon Daimantes De Hielo (about $21/375ml) is a sweet frost cider (with a 11.5% ABV). To make this cider, they freeze freshly pressed apple juice which is later gradually drip-thawed to concentrate the sugar and flavor intensity. It is then fermented and aged, creating a sweet dessert cider. It has an appealing aroma, with a rich, sweet taste of apples, honey, and caramel. It was a bit too sweet for my own preferences, and I would have liked more acidity to balance the sweetness. However, it does do well with a hard cheese.

Guzmán Riestra Riestra was founded back in 1906 by Robustiano Riestra and it eventually was passed on to his daughter, Etelvina Riestra. With her husband, Ricardo Riestra Hortal, they eventually implemented some modernized advances. Today, the ciders is in the hands of Raul and Ruben Riestra, the great grandsons of the founder. The two ciders we tasted from their portfolio both are blends of apples from Asturias and Normandy.

The Sidra Natural Riestra (about $9.50/700ml) is a natural, dry, unfiltered sidra (with a 6% ABV) made in a very traditional fashion. It possesses only a very mild earthiness, with much more rich apple flavors and stronger tannins. It is dry with sour and bitter notes as well as good acidity. It went very well with the various cheeses, and it is said it holds up well with cured meats too.

The Guzman Riestra Sidra Brut Nature (about $16/750ml) is a sparkling dry sidra (with a 8% ABV) made in the Methode Champenoise. It is dry with moderate bubbles, a mild earthiness, a bright apple flavor , a hint of tropical fruit, and a pleasingly long finish. It has similar tannins to the other Riestra and this can stand up to stronger foods, like cured meats.

Sidra Trabanco was founded in 1925 by Emilio Trabanco and now the fourth generation is in control of the ciders. Over the years, the family has continued to improve the quality of their cider and add modern techniques and technology. In addition, they have expanded their business to include a number of new products.

The Sidra Avalon (about $4/33ml, available in a 4 pack) is a semidry sparkling cider (with a 5.5% ABV). It was the most American of all of the ciders, easy-drinking, bubbly and sweet with a strong burst of apple flavor and some tartness. This would appeal to those who enjoy some of the large, commercial ciders made in the U.S. I much prefer the more dry Spanish ciders, but there is certainly a market for this type of sweeter cider.

Overall, this was a fun and educational tasting, showcasing some of the diversity that can be found in the realm of Spanish sidra. My Top Three Favorites of the tasting were the Fanjul Sidra Natural, Viuda de Angelon Sidra De Pera and the 1947 Sidra de Nueva Expression. I generally prefer more traditional ciders and I love the earthy flavors that can be found in some of them. If you enjoy cider, then you need to explore Spanish ciders, to learn about a more than 2000 year old tradition. And be sure to pair your ciders with various foods, to learn how cider be do well with many different dishes.


Unknown said...

Thanks for your well backgrounded reviews! Especially for the chemical substsntiation of my sensory observation of umami in sidra. Now I can go public with it.

Peter Mitchell, the British cider authority who trains many emerging U.S. cider makers claims that ciders do not have unami. But then, he regards Spanish ciders as wierd and "off".

Fortunately the arrival of sidra has encouraged donestic efforts at spontaneous fermentation, which is what permits malolactic fermentation, the source of umami flavors. Troy cider, from California is an example. No surprise, its owner, Mark Mctavish, is also the leading distributor of Spanish ciders on the west coast.

Some producers are innoculating their lab yeast ciders with lactobacillus to generate malolactic fermentation. Strikes me as a convoluted way to replicate straightforward natural processes. But I guess that would fall in line with Mitchell's insistence on improving on nature in the labority.

My only correction to your facts is that Fanjul vats are of stainless stainless steel and fiberglass only, not wood, which eliminates air infiltration during maturation, reducing acetification, moderating characteristic vilatile acidity (vinegar), that other component of sidra that makes it pair so well with fat.

Richard Auffrey said...

Hi James:
More study of umami in cider is warranted as there doesn't seem to have been much done on the subject, and a couple of potentially related articles are hidden behind university pay walls. And the amount of glutamic acid in a cider will depend on a number of factors, including length of fermentation. Sake is an alcohol with some of the highest amounts of glutamic acid while wine has a lesser, though still significant, amount. Beer has very little glutamic acid.

Anonymous said...

Hey Richard,

Thanks, Richard. I am very interested in this topic, especially as there had been some resistance to accepting and integrating a Spanish Cider category into BJCP (Beer Judging Certification Program, which currently governs leading U.S. cider competitions), primarily, I think, because a couple of culturally narrow, and assertive, officials could not wrap their minds around the notion of food-like flavors (umami) in cider. Fortunately, they were over-ruled by a growing number of Spanish cider fans among leading American cider makers and aficionados, and there is now an official category for Traditional Spanish Cider.

However, that category excludes new generation Spanish Ciders, of which, the story goes, there are too few to define a category. Fortunately, at competitions like the Great Lakes International Cider and Perry Competition, the most important cider competition in the Americas, we are allowed to take our chances entering any category we dare. So last year I entered Viuda de Angelon Sidra Brut and Sidra 1947, and Guzman Riestra Brut Nature in the English category; and guess what? The 1947 was awarded a Gold Medal and the others were awarded Silver! Now that we've been there, and done that, we are looking for a different non-Spanish category to invade this year. Watch for It.

My takeaway is that there is a lot of ferment (pun intended) in Ciderlandia with widespread experimentation and cultural cross-pollination. I think that cultural history shows us that style, whether national, regional, or movemental is never static. There are moments when we should celebrate the gelling of an identifiable and great style, but never to the exclusion of discovery.

As for Ciders of Spain, our goal is to present the classic hallmarks of Spanish Sidra while supporting the right of our producers to participate in the world-wide project of contemporary cider. (Why our tagline is "refreshing tradition".) It would be odd that only North American cider makers are permitted to invent, simply because we have completely lost our cider fruit and traditional know-how, while established regions are expected to keep cranking out the same old juice, marvelous as that may be. If cider making is to be appreciated as an art, then individuality and exploration must be celebrated along with tradition and past successes.

As in any art, it will be important to sort out the varied strains fermenting in the mix to appreciate and evaluate them for their separate and shared sensibilities, criteria, and missions. As of yet the artform has not developed an adequately nuanced discourse to serve a fully discriminating treatment. I would suggest that it begin with the recognition that cider is not just a liquid, but part of a cultural process as well. But don't worry. I still think that in the end, we should just plain like the cider we like. It is just more satisfying when we know why, and more honest when we can admit why we don't like something else, rather than setting false boundaries on what is and what is not cider to exclude them.

Not preaching, here, just ruminating.

Richard Auffrey said...

The role of umami in alcohol & food pairings is still a topic that doesn't get enough attention. It is only in recent years, that some prominent wine writers have been discussing how umami in wine works in wine pairings. Sake, which has far more umami than wine, gets ignored by many when considering food pairings. It is why you almost always find Sake just at Asian restaurants, despite the fact Sake pairs well with all cuisines. So it is not surprising to me that many have ignored the umami found in cider. It is an ongoing battle to educate people.