Thursday, October 20, 2011

WINE COUNTRY VERMONT: EDEN VERMONT ICE CIDER

Traditional wine grapes don't grow too well in the very cold climate of Vermont.  The Vermont Grape and Wine Council reports only 14 wineries, some of which import juice from California.  The VGWC notes, though, that great wine is being made from cold-hardy varieties like Frontenac, Riesling, Cayuga and Lacrescent.

The weather that throws a curve to grape growers happens to be pretty good for beekeepers and apple farmers, though.  Mead (made from honey) and cider ( from apples) are a big part of the Vermont wine scene.  Ice wine is also a local favorite, as is ice cider.

Eden Ice Cider Company operates from a former dairy farm in the Northeast Kingdom village of West Charleston, Vermont.  "Northeast Kingdom" refers to a three-county area in the northeastern corner of Vermont.  Vermonters refer to it simply as "The Kingdom."

Eleanor and Albert Léger established Eden in 2007.  Since then, they have planted over 1,000 apple trees and produced three vintages of their ice cider.  The cider is produced from 100% Vermont-grown apples - some are estate fruit, some are purchased from other vermont orchards.

Ice cider is not made exactly like ice wine, but the processes are similar.  Ice wine is made by harvesting frozen grapes and bringing them in for fementation.  For ice cider, the apples are pressed in early winter but the juice is left outdoors to freeze for four to six weeks.  The frozen juice is then brought indoors, melted and fermented.  This brings out the sweetest juice.  The Légers are proud of their natural approach to cider making.  "We don't add coloring, sugar or any other flavoring.  We blend (apple) varieties to achieve complexity of flavor with sufficient natural acidity and structure to balance the residual sugar."

It takes more than eight pounds of apples to make a bottle of cider.  The result, according to Erin Zimmer of Serious Eats Blog, is like "drinking the juice of ten apples in one gulp."

The Légers provided me with several of their Eden Vermont Ice Ciders to sample:

Eden Vermont Ice CiderEden Cidre de Glace du Vermont Calville Blend 2010Eleven different apple varieties go into this blend: Empire, Macintosh, Roxbury Russett, Calville Blanc, Cox's Orange Pippin, Hudson's Gem, Ashmead's Kernel, Esopus Spitzenberg, Black Oxford, Belle de Boskoop and Reinettes.  Whew!  This cider has a 10% abv number and 15% residual sugar.

The color is a beautiful golden hue, deep and rich looking, a little darker than apple juice.  The aromas the ice cider offers are of baked apples, pure and simple.  It's a lovely nose.  The taste is sweet and much more concentrated than apples or even apple juice.  After all, you're drinking ten apples at once.  The acidity level is fantastic - you'd never get this in apple juice. Sometimes I dont get it in wine!  It's a slightly viscous drink with a full mouthfeel and a bit of zippiness on the finish.  It's great on it's own, but is more than ready to pair with cheese or even meats.

Eden Vermont Ice CiderEden Cidre de Glace du Vermont Northern Spy 2009This one is a single-variety ice cider made from 100% Northern Spy apples and aged in French oak for a year.  The color is extremely rich looking, darker than the unoaked cider.  It looks quite like bourbon in the glass and it smells like a holiday apple pie, with that baked apple aroma drenched in cinnamon and nutmeg.  Much oak nuance graces the palate, too.  It's viscous, like the unoaked, but a bit more tart on the finish.  I find it quite complex with maybe a bit more of a "grownup" taste.  They advise you pair it with cheddar or creamy blue cheese.

Eden Orleans Aperitif Cider

Orleans is a dry wine made in collaboration with Caleb Barber and Deirdre Heekin, owners and - respectively - the head chef and maître liquoriste of Osteria Pane e Salute in Woodstock, Vermont.  It is infused with Vermont-grown herbs.  The alcohol content is a bit higher than the other two I tasted, 15.5%, and there is only 1% residual sugar.  The comparison to Vermouth comes quickly, and Eden has a booklet of suggested mixed drinks utilizing Orleans.  It's also been mentioned as a great mix with Prosecco and lime, or all by itself on the rocks.

I tasted it chilled, straight up.  Orleans is slightly lighter in color than the Northern Spy.  The aroma profile shows herbs on apples - sage, thyme and oregano leap forward.  The apple flavors have the herbs coloring the taste, too - as if Vermouth were made from apples.  The finish is tart and zingy.  And the herbal quality stays around long after the sip.

My introduction to Vermont cider was indeed an enjoyable one.  All three of these ciders would be welcome any time of the year, but the Northern Spy seems particularly suited to the holiday season.  Its aromas and flavors mirror those found in holiday foods, especially desserts.  The Orleans Aperitif Cider could easily be a mainstay on your bar for mixing, although it's great all by itself.


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