Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Ciders of Spain: Viuda de Angelón & Guzman Riestra

"Really, it is the Asturian cider makers who are calling the attention of Americans to your magnificent region and sidra is serving as an excellent ambassador."
--James Asbel

Besides my love for the diverse wines of Spain, from briny Manzanilla Sherry to aged Rioja, from crisp Albarino to fruity Mencia, I also enjoy their Ciders, from Asturias (which are known as Sidra) and the Basque region (which are known as Sagardoa). Cider may even have originated in Spain a few thousand years ago. Spanish ciders present their own unique flavor profiles and it's great to see more of them entering the U.S. market.

Ciders of Spain tasting event, led by importer James Asbel, was recently held at Pemberton Farms in Cambridge, and two Sidra makers were in attendance, from Viuda de Angelón & Guzman Riestra. I've previously enjoyed Sidra from both of these producers but I wanted the opportunity to meet and speak with the Sidra makers. Please check out my two prior posts for more background and history on Ciders of Spain, James Asbel, Sidra and some specific reviews: Ciders of Spain: Asturian Cider (Part 1) and Ciders of Spain: Asturian Cider (Part 2).

Francisco Ordoñez Vigil, pictured above, is the main Sidra maker at Viuda de Angelón (the "widow of Angelon"), which 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 remains a family-owned and operated artisan cidery and they also operate a sidrería, a cider pub, in the center of Nava.

Francisco is a 3rd generation Sidra maker and acquired an oenology degree from the University of Valencia. Though he worked in the wine industry first, he eventually gravitated back to the family cidery. There isn't a school in Spain for cider making, so an oenology degree is the closest educational degree you can acquire. Francisco has been able to apply his winemaking knowledge, bringing more scientific analysis to the Sidra production. Francisco produces a wide range of Sidra, four of which are currently imported into the U.S. He stated that his biggest challenge in Sidra making is growing the apples.

The Sidra Brut Viuda de Angelón (about $16) is a Sparkling Off-Dry Cider made from 5 varieties of cider apples, though the exact proportions of each will vary some year to year. They have some of their own orchards, which are organic though not certified, and they purchase some apples from other local, organic orchards. Their orchards are quite steep so they must be do all hand harvesting, which is certainly laborious work. They also raise some livestock, including sheep and cows, which graze in the orchard.

Like all of their Sidras, the initial fermentation for the Brut occurs in an open tank and using wild yeasts. The cider will be cold shocked so some residual sugar remains within it, meaning they don't need to add additional sugar for the second fermentation, which occurs in a sealed tank. In addition, before that second fermentation, the cider is matured for about eight months in large chestnut barrels. It is cold shocked for a second time during the second fermentation so a little residual sugar, about 9 grams/liter, remains in the bottle. With a mild sweetness, this bubbly has rich apple flavors and would make a nice summer drink. There isn't much of a history of how well this Brut will age, but James believes it has a good aging potential.

The 1947 Sidra de Neuva Expresion (about $13) is a Petillant Semi-Dry Cider, produced from a blend of 14 apple varieties, all from their own orchards, with a rough breakdown of about 75% sharp, 15% bitter-sharp and the rest bitter-sweet. Fermentation occurs in an open chestnut vat, with wild yeasts, and I was quite surprised that they also allow it to mature in the open vat for about 12 months!  The vats are old, some being as much as a hundred years or more, and are quite large, about 15,000 liters. Some of the vats are stored underground while others are at ground level. The chestnut provides a touch of sweetness to the cider.

How can the cider survive for 12 months in an open vat? First, the cider actually forms a type of flor atop it, like occurs with Sherry, protecting the cider from oxygen and bacteria. In addition, as they use higher acidity apples, that is another element protecting the cider. The cider is unfiltered, unfined and doesn't undergo any cold shock. It possesses a strong, appealing apple aroma and on the palate, it presents as mostly dry and crisp, with only the slightest hint of sweetness, with a mild effervescence, enough to be a nice palate cleanser and excellent for food pairings. It has delicious apple flavors, with a lengthy pleasing finish, and was one of my Top Three Sidras of the previous tasting.

The Viuda de Angelón Sidra de Pera ($3.50/330ml) is a Sparkling Off-Dry Perry, made from several varieties of pears from their estate. Perry production might extend back to the ancient Romans and was popular in Asturias during the last couple hundred years though mostly it was made by families at home and there was little, if any, commercial production. The pear trees are wild, organic and over 70 years old. Once the pears are picked, they are first fermented in stainless steel, with wild yeasts, and then mature for about four months in chestnut vats. Then, they undergo a second fermentation in the tank.

This is an impressive Perry, with a harmonious blend of earthiness with subtle pear flavor and a mild effervescence. It is dry and refreshing, with lots of depth. It would be excellent on its own or paired with food, especially something with umami. Absolutely delicious, it was also one of my a Top Three Sidras of the previous tasting.

I had some concerns last week when I read a news article from La Sidra titled "The Spanish administration bans pear cider." The article states "So now this category, pear cider, turns to be illegal and prevents the sale of perry with its own name. In Asturies, as we said, pear cider is a traditional and historical product as apple cider, despite its production and consumption was decreaded lately. Only the cider mill Viuda de Angelón produced this product since 2011 and now it will have to stop its production and distributon of this beverage, while the shops and cider bars can still sell this."

Fortunately, I spoke with James Asbel who soothed my worries, as the La Sidra article apparently wasn't fully accurate. James stated that Spain had only banned the use of the term "sidra" in referring to a "perry." As such, it will have no impact on production and sales, and no impact on Viuda de Angelón's labeling in the U.S. Perry can certainly still be produced in Spain, just as long as you don't try to label it as a sidra. Francisco Ordoñez Vigil, of Viuda de Angelón, has indicated he might decide to change over to the use of perea, the traditional term for Perry.

Raul Riestra, pictured above, is the main Sidra maker at Guzman Riestra, which 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 modern advances. Today, the cidery is in the hands of Raul and Ruben Riestra, the great grandsons of the founder, and Raul, with a business degree, is the chief cider maker.

Raul does not have an oenology degree but has always worked at the family cidery so he has learned everything on the job. Riestra grows some of their own apples and also purchases some. About 40% of their apples are from the local area, 40% are from little further away, and about another 20% come from Normandy, France. The cidery has about 30 vats for their apples, including chestnut, stainless steel and fiberglass. When making Sidra, the same juice goes into 3-4 vats to maintain consistency and they don't fill the vats all the way, allowing room for expansion.

Like Angelón, they conduct open vat fermentations, with wild yeasts. After the October harvest, fermentation can take about six weeks, though during the colder months, fermentation takes longer, and can extend even as long as 9 months. This is not a problem, as it allows them to more evenly spread out their availability. Overall, they produce about 850,000 liters of Sidra annually. Their greatest challenge is trying to press so many apples in such a short time.

The Sidra Natural Riestra (about $9.50/700ml) is a dry, unfiltered Sidra and when you are pouring it into a glass, you hold the bottle high in the area, a practice known as escanciar, which helps to aerate the cider as well as make it fizzier. It possesses 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. This too would be excellent with a variety of food pairings, including cheese. The U.S. imports about 50% of the total production of this Sidra.

The Guzman Riestra Sidra Brut Nature (about $16/750ml) is a sparkling dry Sidra made in the Methode Champenoise. They select 2-3 tanks specifically for this Brut, only the best of their Sidra. It is matured for about 4 months in the tank, is then filtered and fined, before receiving a dosage and undergoing a second fermentation in the bottle. It spends at least four months in the bottle, and usually longer, and is commonly released about five months after disgorgment. The U.S. imports about 30% of the total production of this Brut.

The Brut is clean and 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 could stand up to stronger foods, like cured meats.

Asturian Sidra offers a compelling and more unique flavor profile, with a great sense of history and tradition. And the Sidras in this article, from Ciders of Spain, offer an excellent value as well. A number of local wine and liquor shops now stock these Sidras, and if they don't, you should ask them to carry them.


Cecilia O. said...

Viuda de Angelón is so delicious 😋The best cider without doubt. It's a pity that we can't enjoy the pear one here in Asturias anymore. I hope Francisco decide to change the term so we will be able to do it again. As you said, well said, absolutely delicious

Richard Auffrey said...

Thanks for your comment Cecilia. I do hope you'll be able to enjoy the Pear Cider again too.

Ken Zuckerman said...

It's Ken from Ciders of Spain - I like to enjoy the Pera in a Champagne flute - one 33 cl bottle gives two perfect pours and puts it in a vessel which echoes its quality :)