What is ‘Vintage’ Cider?
It is rare in the cider world to be able to directly compare two different vintages of the same single variety cider, both treated in similar ways. Ross have released a 2015 and a 2017 single variety Ashton Brown Jersey in 750ml bottles. This post will explore the factors that can influence different vintages of cider and then taste the bottles.
The vintage of a good quality wine is the year and place that it was made before being stored to improve it. You can also use vintage to refer to the wine that was made in a certain year.
Many people may believe that vintage means old and moreover higher quality old! This understanding is exploited widely by commercial and industrial cider makers. It’s actually quite difficult for them to produce a ‘vintage’ product due to the widespread use of juice concentrate which can be stored for years and is usually mixed in huge tanks. Nevertheless, Thatchers and Westons both sell ‘vintage’ varieties.
“Vintage Quality … there is another elusive characteristic which can only be described as 'vintage quality'. There is no clear understanding of what this means in chemical terms - it is probably due to minute amounts of certain flavour precursors or possibly the presence of micronutrients which cause the fermentation yeast and bacteria to act in particular ways. Nevertheless, there is general agreement that certain cultivars produce a superior quality of cider to others, even though they may not give the highest yields nor be the easiest to grow. The same is true of wine-making - in France for instance the 'Cabernet Sauvignon' is rated a far superior red-wine grape than is 'Carignan', although of course soil type and climate also play a major role. An apple successful in one area may perform indifferently in another”.
Amongst the apples Andrew Lea lists as potentially producing this ‘vintage quality’ cider is Ashton Brown Jersey. This is a bittersweet apple and the fruit production is biennial.
Ross on Wye Cider describe this apple as “The unknown and underappreciated apple Ashton Brown Jersey. A unique bittersweet that was overlooked because the tree takes much longer to start fruiting than other varieties”
Vintage is also a reflection of terroir and the variations of the year – climatic influences. As these ciders are produced by the same maker with apples from the same orchard the terroir is similar.
What about the influence of climatic variation? According to the Met office 2015 summer was wetter and cooler than previous years, but not exceptional, however, the year as whole was warmer than average with less frost and more sun in winter and early spring. 2017 was warmer than 2015 with below average rainfall (particularly in spring), but again not an unusual year weather-wise. In other words, neither year was special in the UK. However, this does not tell the full story as the particular microclimate in the orchard and cidery is usually more important than national weather patterns. An obvious exception here is the summer of 2018 which produced a fantastic vintage! (see previous blog post).
Influence of the Barrel and aging
The 2015 cider is from one single barrel which started its life in plastic and was then transferred to oak, where it spent a relatively long time. In this case we would expect a large influence of this barrel on the completed cider. The 2017 is a mix of 2 barrels one matured in plastic and the other in oak. The influence of the barrel should be an interesting point of comparison between the vintages.
Presentation & Appearance
750ml bottle 8.4%
Colour – pure Gold
Good pop of fizz on opening
Lots of bubbles in the glass
750ml bottle 8.4%
Colour – pure Gold
Less fizz on opening
Fine bubbles in the glass that don’t last long leaving a very gentle petilance.
Lovely mellow aroma with sweet phenolics and some woody notes
Delicate subtle aroma, red apple and red summer fruit, (strawberry/raspberry). Less aromatic than 2015
Strong perception of sweetness which is a surprise in a bone-dry cider. Mellow and smooth on the palate, really juicy with lovely woody barrel flavours. Carbonation is just right to add zest to the flavours.
Less perception of sweetness and has more acidity compared to 2015. Woody notes from the barrel are present but not as prominent. It’s fruity and balanced. Dare I say wine-like?!!!
A very refined grown up cider.
Long finish with mellow tannins and plenty of them!
Plenty of tannin again, quite mellow on the finish
A superb cider. Beautifully drinkable! It’s the sort of cider that makes you very happy!
A cider I'd recommend to friends who enjoy drinking fine wine. Very well balanced and lovely to drink
Both of these ciders are interesting and well worth seeking out. Be quick they won’t be around for long and it will be a long time till the next ones! I plan to get as many 2015 vintage as I can....
.... the 2017? I'll drink some and put at least half to one side and drink in two years.