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Ross on Wye do it again! - following in the footsteps of greatness... from French Oak

A review by Cath Potter - two single variety ciders from Ross on Wye Cider and Perry Company - both matured in French Oak barrels - Michelin SV Cider French Oak Cask 8.2% - and Dabinett SV Cider French Oak Cask 8.4%

French Oak ex-armagnac Barrrels

Mike Johnson of Ross Cider has a lot of friends, and they are scattered around the world. Cider enthusiasts, writers and producers who over the years have visited Broome Farm and been charmed with visits to its famed cider cellars. The number of people who came.... and some often stayed for months ... were mentored and influenced... and then departed to make their own cider or open a cider bar.

One of his friends lives in southern France and had some Almagnac barrels, an idea grew between them and two new Ciders were born.

An exciting young cider producer

Albert Johnson is young and opinionated. He was the cider makers son who left home, never to return to the family business. Lily Waite in a recent article in Pellicle brilliantly captures the continuity represented by his return and how he has transformed the cider company to one of the standout cider producers leading the new #RethinkCider movement and the rise of quality modern cider by indie producers.

“It’s quite hard to follow in the footsteps of someone like Mike, who is so loved and revered

“Albert’s done such a brilliant job. Everything that he does is based around everything that Mike has done for the last 25 years. It’s just the story, the language, the presentation that he’s making applicable and understandable in this modern marketplace. It’s really, really exciting to watch!”

Gabe Cook aka The Ciderologist, talking to Lily Waite, Pellicle Magazine

Raison D'Etre

Raison D'Etre was the flagship cider that changed the way we thought about cider forever. Its story was as amazing as its taste. A blend of Dabinett and Michelin aged in oak, Albert described it and named it in one go 'This is why we make cider'. So how do you follow that?

Two new releases

What makes an exciting new cider? Sometimes it’s the apple or the blend, sometimes it’s the vintage, sometimes it’s the method or the yeasts used and sometimes it’s the skill of the maker.

The two new releases I am reviewing here are a tribute both to the apples and to the imagination and skill of the maker!

Both are single variety ciders, both fully wild fermented to dry, both 2018 vintage, both matured in some very special oak casks. And both are made by Ross on Wye Cider and Perry Company.

2018 is a special vintage for cider. The summer was long and hot leading to lots of sweetness in the apples and therefore fantastic taste and high alcohol levels in the ciders. The apples used are both bittersweet apples but with very different flavour profiles and in this special year they were both at their best!

Wild fermentation enables the terroir to be fully expressed in the cider and Ross on Wye use this method. For me personally this gives the ciders more interest and depth of flavour. Of course, it takes a cider makers’ skill to make this successful!

So, what about the apples? The first is Michelin which is originally a French cider apple but has been present in Herefordshire since 1884. It is a component of many a blended cider, but not often used as a single variety as it is seen as a great vehicle for showing off other flavours. The second is Dabinett which is often used in a single variety famous for its balance and vanilla/spicy notes.

Ross on Wye make both of these apples into single variety ciders already, so what makes these new ones special? Well it is the barrel ageing! French Oak casks which previously contained Armagnac. I had the privilege of savouring the aroma of these before the cider was added. I’ve never had Armagnac but I want to taste it now! These casks have imparted flavour and character to these ciders which are bottle conditioned and presented in 750ml bottles.

So, what do I think of them? I think they are wonderfully grownup ciders with strong flavours and fantastic dryness. Perfect for sharing and sipping on their own or with a strong flavoured cheese (blue or otherwise but would have to be seriously strong!)

Do I have a favourite? Well the blog team is split on this one! I particularly favoured the Michelin whereas Dick fell in love with the Dabinett.

Ok down to the detail now!

1. Michelin SV Cider French Oak Cask 8.2% Pressed Oct 2018 Bottled Jan 2020

Matured in Armagnac barrels. Appearance of this cider is Dark Gold almost Amber. There is a very slight sparkle which can be seen on pouring and the liquid has a viscous appearance when swirled around the glass.

On the nose it is oaky as expected with spirit overtones. Smoky like a fine whiskey with overtones of ripe apple skins, leather, and savoury notes

Tasting reveals smoky oaky smooth woody notes with low acidity and higher tannins than expected from a Michelin with lots of tannic astringency. The apple comes through with rich dried fruit reminiscent of Christmas cake with citrus peel and sweetness and richness.

Long woody smooth tannic finish.

This is a very grown up cider, a sipper and gets better as you work your way down the glass. Could be called a ‘grower’!

2. Dabinett SV Cider French Oak Cask 8.4% Pressed Nov 2018 Bottled Nov 2019

Matured in Armagnac barrels. Appearance is deep gold in colour slight sparkle on pouring.

Aroma of vanilla typical of Dabinett but with slight spirit and wood overtones plus some baked apple.

On tasting, spirit is discernible with smooth vanilla and some citrus (grapefruit) with baked apple. Tannic astringency but with a long smooth vanilla finish on the back of the palate.

The character of the Dabinett apple is enhanced and deepened by the maturation in these very special oak casks.

We tasted this early at a Manchester Cider Club in January and boy has it matured in the bottle since then. In the early drinking the spirit was still a dominant aroma but by May the Dabinett aromas and flavours shine through with the Armagnac a lovely accent in the background. An absolute triumph.

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