Sunday, January 13, 2013

Sea Cider CiderHouse, Vancouver Island, BC

3 years ago I started writing about wine. I had no education, very little formal tasting experience, and few friends or colleagues in the industry. All I really had at that time was a handful of memories of wine at my Father's dinner table... crisp Riesling to match a rich choucroute, a fruity Zinfandel to play off an earthy chili or a vintage Port to warm the soul on a winter's eve.
This was what I knew of wine, and I knew enough to know that I wanted to know more.
My wife, Mrs AStudentof Wine, gave me the time and resources I needed to ensure I could study, taste, and travel my way through an accelerated wine curriculum. I will be forever in her debt, and she will always know it, for this week I was highlighted as a British Columbia Wine Writer for the 2013 Wine Blogger's Conference  .
It will be held in June in Penticton, BC - the first time ever in Canada, right in my backyard, and right in time for my birthday! Well, backyard by Canadian standards which means a 4 hour drive through a winding mountain pass.
And so, how fitting it is that I end my Christmas break by writing about a true harbor for artisanal crafting in BC; Sea Cider Cider-House . My wife and I, and our LittlestStudentofWine, all stopped by on our way back to Vancouver just before Christmas... the wind was whipping the Georgia Straight into a frenzy and none of us felt like braving the ferry crossing. How fortunate for us that Sea Cider is only minutes from the Swartz Bay terminal~!
We hummed along the country road in our aging Saab, watching the flocks of sheep - watching us. The drying leaves whistled alongside as we turned this way and that, and found ourselves crawling up the stony path to the gates of an apple Nirvana.
The service was genuine, the setting almost too perfect, and the cider was too good to leave all of it at the Cider House! The proof? As always in the glass my friends;

(driest to sweetest)

Sea Cider House-blend "Sea Cider"
90 points, $15
apples:  Empire and Winter Banana
7.1% ABV

     nose:     medium+ concentration of smokey, woodchip/smokehouse aromas, Silex notes akin to the Loire Valley (Sancerre) gunflint
    palate:    light, effervescent, bone-dry like good Champagne, persistent mild herbaceous flavors, good structure, medium length
     conclusion:   an refreshing cider to celebrate Summer with, this will win sommeliers over with its vast range of pairing abilities; from light seafood to rich, soft cheese and a myriad more choices

Wild English
89 points, $15
apples: Hertfordshire bitter sweet
Wild yeast fermentation
7.2% ABV
     nose:   medium concentration of savory citrus, slight barnyard akin to good Spanish red wine
     palate:   dry; lighter in body, incredibly quaffable, rich texture, medium concentration mirroring the nose with citrus tones running rampant, savory herbs and a soft yet detailed funky/barnyard quality which I find most intriguing. Great balance and persistence
     conclusion:     Another great cider for a hot Summer day, this is for when I've just finished mowing the lawn, raking the leaves, painting the fence and need to cool down. At over 7% I wouldn't trust myself to too much without food, but would gladly take a bottle by the pool

91 points, $17
Perry pears
6% ABV

     nose:     fully intense honey tones, complex and layered pear
    palate:   bone dry and mild effervescence, crisp and vibrant acidity, fully intense flavors mimicking the nose with garden dill lurking in the background, stunning balance and precision with good length
     conclusion:   Whilst low enough in alcohol to enjoy much of, I fear that I would enjoy this far too much. My favorite so far, this cider displays a high level of skill and personality

Ginger Perry
92 points, $17
Perry and Anjou pears, infused with eau-du-vie and black tea
5.5% ABV

     nose:   an over-the-top explosion of Christmas spices: nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, star anise finish...
     palate:     off dry; mouth-watering full acidity, medium concentration with the spice but also a cacophony of stewed dark fruit, orange notes, coalescing into Christmas Pudding in a glass~!
    conclusion:   with the full acids, this made me think of a drink before a meal, or better yet, a well placed palate cleanser in an over-abundant festive meal. The challenge: that this raucous little bevvie bursts with more flavors and aromas then most palate cleansers are wont. Be careful, but fortune favors the brave

91 Points, $17
(a traditional Strong Cider)
yellow Newton Pippin apples
no ABV given (meaning it's dangerous at around 8.5 to 9%)

     nose:     big, strong, full apple notes with some candied banana and pear tones
     palate:     off dry; fully intense and complex apple flavors with luscious honey tones, creamy apples, great balance and structure
     conclusion:    not terribly imaginative, this is an impeccably constructed powerhouse for a Friday night when it's time to get down to serious drinking! Move over you charlatan Strongbow. Make way you cheat Blackthorne! Here stands a true Cider.

92 Points, $17
aged in Screech rum casks
12.5% ABV
     nose:     medium concentration of molasses washing over apples and a hint of nutmeg, Demerra sugar
     palate:    off dry; light acidity, medium concentration of roasted apples with brown sugar and a hint of cinnamon. Great balance and very good structure
     conclusion:    always one of my favorite drinks at any time of year. This cider wins me with it's unabashed selfness, it's ease and playfulness whilst still having brilliant structure and nuance. If I made a hot rum toddy and cooled it down, using only the best rum possible - maybe it would be this good
I soon realized that this "little tasting" was swiftly sliding from enjoyable to decadent, and perhaps I would be best passing my car-keys to my wife! Little did I know that everything up to this point had indeed been a warm-up for the next round: Fortified Cider.
Pommeau *fortified*
92 Points, $25 375ml
snow apples
19.5% ABV
     nose:     light, sharp from the alcohol, dried apple and pear notes, sugar tones
     palate:    sweet; crisp medium acids, very Normandy style and silky smooth, the palate plays off the nose in a very co-ordinated manner. Superb balance and structure for those who enjoy the style
     conclusion:    I have no idea what the North American consumer might think of this, but those of my tastebuds who ally with France are rejoicing at this little gem! What a treat to serve at the end of a meal with fresh fruit, roasted nuts, some cheese or perhaps a Christmas cake. Truly world-class
Cyser (like mead) *fortified*
90 Points, $25 375ml
fermented honey and organic cider
16% ABV
     nose:    fully intense fermented honey tones, savory herbs
    palate:     semi-sweet; full bracing acidity, good structure, medium Meyer lemon and green pineapple flavors, long length
    conclusion:    mead style beverages have never taken my fancy, but I can appreciate the craftsmanship in this production
Pomona  *fortified*
90-91 Points, $25 375ml
frozen indigenous crabapples (made as icewine or glace-du-pomme)
16.2% ABV
     visual:   beautiful light amber/tangerine color
     nose:     medium+ to fully intense savory butterscotch, tangerine, salt water toffee, aromatic oranges, hint of clove or Winter spice, tinge of spicy pepper
     palate:    sweet; medium- acidity, similar to Vin Santo from southern Italy this cider is full of apple flavors, tangerine, lively apricots and apricot compote... slight disjuncture between palate and nose which is not a bad thing.
     conclusion:   an incredibly unique product, this will play well off of your less sweet desserts. Consider dark chocolate to be a good friend to this cider
And so concluded a whirlwind tasting; 9 ciders in less then an hour, and me now ready for a good nap. Everything scored between 89 and 92 points which I consider noteworthy for such moderately priced artisanal products.
The big surprise for me? Both my wife and I ranked the Ginger Perry as our favorite; a stunning example of Christmas in a bottle. All of these ciders displayed craftsmanship and precision, and we were glad to pay for a few bottles on our way out the over-sized wooden doors.
This little ciderhouse, only minutes from the Vancouver Island ferry terminal, is an oasis. They have truly charming staff, a view second-to-none overlooking the water (from the hilltop) and an obvious bevvie of beauties (pardon the pun). We sat at the long tables, my daughter playing in the towering old English chairs and my wife and I staring dreamily out the windows. These fine folks have worked hard to create a strong brand-identity and I am certain that it will pay them back ten-fold.
We will be back, of that I have no doubt.
As always, I welcome your comments and questions.
CINCIN~!!!     SLAINTE~!!!     CHEERS~!!!

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