Wine talk: Reconsider cider

With an alcoholic content similar to beer and a wide range of styles, the fermented beverage is not another term for apple juice.

Wine talk: Reconsider cider (photo credit: MCT)
Wine talk: Reconsider cider
(photo credit: MCT)
Ask most Israelis if they know what cider is, and they will most likely answer that it is a sweet, slightly viscous apple juice. A soft drink without any hint of alcohol. Go to the West Country in England or Normandy and Brittany in France, and there cider, or cidre, is an alcoholic drink made from fermented apple juice, which has become part of the fabric of the two countries.
Cider is known in many countries. It has a similar alcoholic content to beer and comes in a range of styles, from bone dry to sweet. It can be cloudy and flat or bright and sparkling. It is made from fermented apple juice in a cider mill. In England, cider is sold in beer bottles, and there is scarcely a pub without a cider on draft. Strongbow, Bulmers, Blackthorn and Woodpecker are internationally known brand names. Cider is also an artisanal product. You can travel through the southwest of England, meeting small local producers who make Scrumpy, which is more often than not an unfiltered cider that is cloudy, reasonably flat, surprisingly strong and highly individual.
In France, cidre is no less important and is regarded with immense pride by the locals. There, it is sold not unlike a champagne or sparkling wine. It comes in a large 750-ml. bottle, with a wire cradle to keep the cork in. Both cider and cidre are regarded with absolute reverence in the regions they hail from.
Perry is often confused with cider. It is similar, except that it is made from pears. It is not so common because the special pears suitable to make perry are rarer and take a longer time to come to fruition. If “Cider Perry” is written on the label, it is generally a cider with perry added for a little extra complexity of aroma.
Cider in Israel had a brief introduction in the mid 1990s, when the Cider Hagalil soft drink company came out with an alcoholic drink called Outcider. Unfortunately, it was sweet and heavy and bore little resemblance to the cider we know and love. Not surprisingly, it didn’t last.
However, cider is a product that is ideal for the Israeli climate. It is usually light, refreshing and fizzy, with a delicate aroma of apples. It is not as deep, as flavorful, as bitter or as gassy as beer. Hence its attraction. It is one of the most refreshing drinks there is and the perfect accompaniment to a tasting of various cheddar cheeses. They both come from the same area.
In Israel we talk about the new trends in drinks. Some people say that beer is the new wine, considering all the domestic and small breweries opening up. (In the same way in fashion with regard to the “in” colors, they say each year that the “the new black is… black.”) Now some people are saying that the new beer is cider because there are suddenly, out of nowhere, a few entrepreneurial souls producing cider here. (Actually, I still believe that the new wine is still wine, as the number of new vineyards and new wineries shows no sign of abating.)
However, in the last year or two, there have been some welcome new cider initiatives to bring Israeli cider to the fore. One is a side product produced by a winery; another is produced by a brewer; and the third is produced by a grower of apple orchards and vineyards.
Sideffect is a new cider with deep roots in the apple industry. It is produced by Kibbutz Elrom in the northern Golan, not far from the Valley of Tears known from the Yom Kippur War. The kibbutz farmed its apple orchards way back then, and even in the 1970s the Golan Heights were becoming known for the quality of their apples. The high altitude of up to 1,200 meters above sea level was ideal.
Prof. Cornelius Ough of the University of California at Davis visited the Golan and observed the quality of the apples and immediately suggested that the area would be ideal for quality wine grapes. He understood that grapes and apples needed the same fruit and acidity balance and noticed the volcanic tuff, basalt stone and relatively cool temperatures.
The first wine grapes were planted in 1976. In 1982-3, the canny and feisty Shimshon Welner transferred from apples to wine to found the most impressive wine start-up in 100 years. He established the Golan Heights Winery. Kibbutz Elrom became a founding partner of the winery, and Welner became the winery’s first CEO. The rest is history.
Fast forward 30 years, and the kibbutz has gone into the cider business. Using premium apples from the highquality Bereshit company and the expertise of winemaking consultant Itai Lahat, it has produced two ciders – one dry and the other semi-dry. It uses a variety of apples, in particular those which, though not much to look at, taste fine. However, it is experimenting and will eventually use those apples more specifically suited for cider production. In the meantime, the Elrom wine-apple connection continues. Two of the Golan Heights Winery’s CEOs came from the Kibbutz Elrom, and the cider will eventually be distributed by the winery.
Tura Winery, whose slogan is “Patience and inspiration,” was founded in 2003 by Erez and Vered Ben-Saadon in the village of Rehalim in the Samarian mountains. They are two of the nicest people to be found in the wine trade. Their vineyards and apple orchards grow on Mount Bracha at an altitude of 850 meters. They produce some very good wines (try the Merlot) and a new olive oil. But their latest initiative is with cider, which they produce from organically grown apples.
A third pioneer of new Israeli cider is Denny Neilson, an immigrant from California. He is a cheery fellow, always with a smile on his face, especially when pouring one of his brews for a fellow enthusiast. His beer is ingeniously called Isra-Ale. He produces cider at his store called The Winemaker, situated in the Jerusalem Hills in Mevaseret Zion. His business caters to domestic winemakers, home brewers and people who want to make cider. He produces two ciders named after his golden retriever, Buster, with the apples coming from the nearby Kibbutz Tzova.
I can recommend each of the ciders mentioned below, that I tasted for this article. I include two imported ciders from Westons, available in wine stores in Israel if you want a benchmark. Each may be described as fresh, fragrant and refreshing – the essence of cider.
Tura Apple Cider
5.7% Alcohol. Tura Winery, Mount Bracha.
Very pale straw color.
Apparent sweetness, very apply aroma. Light fizz that quickly disappears.
Reasonably long finish.
Sideffect Alcoholic Cider, Dry
6% Alcohol. Kibbutz Elrom, Golan Heights.
Straw color with a hint of yellow.
Nose of ripe apples, which you may find in a cider mill.
More aggressive fizz. Finish sweet with refreshing CO2 bite.
Sideffect Alcoholic Cider
Semi-dry. 4% Alcohol. Kibbutz Elrom, Golan Heights.
Straw colored. Fizz seems less aggressive and more integrated than the dry version. Taste is good, better than the nose.
Weston’s Premium Cider
Alcohol 4.5%. Herefordshire, UK.
Attractive light gold color. A “winey” nose of ripe apples. Dry apply bite, well integrated fizz, with a sweetness spreading over the palate.
A long finish.
Weston’s Organic Pear Cider
Alcohol 6%. Herefordshire, UK.
Very pale straw color. Aroma of pears. Delicate sparkle that disappears. Fresh and fruity.
One of my favorites!
Adam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery and regularly writes about wine in Israeli and international publications.