Cidres


I don’t know if it is coincidence or something rooted in socio-economics, but both France and the United States are rediscovering cider in a big way. Who knew that the French stopped drinking cider or that Americans ever did? In the second half of the twentieth century, the traditional orchards of Northwest France largely disappeared, ravaged by storms and uprooted because the traditional mix of pasture, orchards and cows did not conform to the modern model of intensive farming. In 1990, the number of apple trees planted in France was 20% of what it had been in 1939. At a similar time in history our own orchards were uprooted as a result of prohibition. The apple or apple tree is indigenous to both France and the U.S., as it is in many parts of the world. Like the United States, France has bitter crab apples as their indigenous species, but thanks to the invasions and migrations of Indo-Europeans, Celts, Romans and Basques, to name a few, France has received and adapted the malus domestica, domesticated apple, a species most probably developed from the malus sieversi, an apple indigenous to Central Asia. It is the malus domestica that has been cultivated in France for two thousand years and so many centuries later was brought to the U.S. by European settlers. This is the species that is used in French cider production and that has spawned so many varieties with which we are familiar.
 
The list of apple varieties grown in France is daunting with over 600 varieties having been identified. Over the centuries, apple varieties have been cultivated locally, so that from one small area of Normandy or Brittany to the next, the varieties of apples will change and thus so will the expressions of the ciders. The varieties are categorized by flavor type: tart, bitter, sweet, tart-sweet and bitter-sweet. Each cider producing area has developed a regional style based on their particular blend of flavor types and using the local varieties within each category.
In the last couple of years Barbara and I have been attracted to wines with lower and lower alcohol levels and French ciders at 4% to 5.5% certainly meet that criterion. More importantly, though, the ciders that we have chosen achieve the difficult balance of our favorite wines, which is the combination of lightness and intensity.
All industrial and most independent cider producers have abandoned traditional methods of cider production and prefer to use selected yeasts for fermentation, pasteurization to end the primary fermentation and gasification instead of a natural secondary fermentation.
Happily, there is still a group of cider producers who want to make cider following the traditions of natural yeasts and without using either pasteurization or gasification. These are the producers that are passionately resisting the sterility of modernization and who merit our support.