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A Vertical Cider Tasting - Twenty Three Vintage French Ciders

by Joan Kitterman April 21, 2020

A Vertical Cider Tasting - Twenty Three Vintage French Ciders

Early this March, Marie Agnes Hérout and Jean-Baptiste Aulombard, owners of Maison Hérout, orchestrated a vertical cider tasting of Maison Hérout ciders. This unusual event was marked by pomp and circumstance usually reserved for vertical wine tastings.  TV personalities, official tasters and industry consultants received a special invitation to experience twenty-three vintage ciders at a gourmet dinner prepared by cheClement Charlot at his restaurant, Fragments in Caen, Normandy.

What made this event so unique?  French cider producers rarely age their ciders.  Instead, they’ve always relied on the local community to consume all the cider they produce that same year.  And while most cider producers endeavor to make ciders that taste the same from year to year, vintage cider producers like Maison Hérout embrace and celebrate the differences that each year brings. Like fine wines and champagnes, they mark each year's production with a vintage date and carefully age each year's production in their cellar, patiently waiting for the distinct characteristics to be revealed. Being a 100% organic product with natural fermentation, Maison Hérout ciders, it turns out, have the unique ability to stand up to lengthy cellar aging.  And like a fine wine or champagne, they improve with age.

For the past 22 years, Marie-Agnes has stored several cases of each year’s cider production in her cellars. This year, they decided to present their beautifully-aged ciders to the world.  Here is a video and the notes from this one-of-a-kind tasting event.

An Interview with Jean-Baptiste Aulombard, co-owner of Maison Hérout,

How many cider vintages did you taste?

Twenty-two ciders in all from 1997 to 2018 plus the latest vintage 2019 which is still in the cuvée.

What were your overall impressions of the cider vintages you tasted?

Amazing. Freshness and significant complexity in general. We notice that the ciders gain in complexity after 10 years of bottle.

Did any of the ciders really stand out? For what reason?

The 1997 vintage.  It was the oldest of the ciders we tasted but also the most complex. When first opened, the aromas were slightly closed but then very quickly regained their aroma. A nose of pommeau aromas, then a very nice length.

Were there any surprises? (Good or bad!)

1997 😉: A beautiful cider. The oldest and the most complex.

1999: This cider had no more effervescence and tasted like a wine! Aromas of fresh apple. Great cider!!

Only one average vintage: 1998. Slightly oxidative and acidity present, perhaps because of the cork cap?

Do ciders age like wine?

Ciders do not react like wines for various reasons, but most importantly because of the presence of yeasts that are still active (Maison Herout cider are all naturally fermented with ambient yeasts from the estate).

But we note a real evolution of aromas after a few years in the cellar, like wines. We also note a different evolution depending on the vintage, so there is a real vintage effect.

We also think that some ciders should have been decanted in order to open the aromas, like wines.

Do aged ciders become more mellow, sweeter, more effervescent, or something else?

These are the taste values that become more complex and more assertive.

They don't get more effervescent. But they become more complex over time.

Do you have to do anything different, add anything, when producing a vintage cider that will be in a bottle for several years?

No. Whether you drink it right away or age it, it's exactly the same cider in the bottle.

In general, how many years will a vintage cider stay good?

We went back to 1997 and the cider was excellent. Beyond 1997, we have no visibility.

If you are looking for freshness and fruit, I think that 5 to 6 years is ideal.

Is it safe to drink cider that has been in a bottle over a year?

Absolutely. We are even convinced that ciders are better after 1 year in the bottle. They are rested and more elegant (more balanced).

 

Most cider producers don’t do vintages. Why do you?

It was not something we started out doing. For us, it was the intuition that our ciders were evolving very well! Creating vintages implies the possibility of storage in bottles. We are keeping about 30 bottles of each vintage, for us.

Are vintage ciders something that you plan to sell in the future as a vertical package?

Yes, why not?  We would love to do that!  We think there is a real interest in doing it and consumers are more and more curious. But for this we need to store a large number of bottles, which is not so simple.

Why should Americans be interested in vintage cider?

Because the old ciders have more complex aromas that young ciders do not have. This is very interesting for working with food and cider pairings. Like old good wines 😉




Joan Kitterman
Joan Kitterman

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