Wines of the Season: Finger Lakes Cider

Ciders of the Season 

Hard cider production explodes in the Finger Lakes 

By Martha Gioumousis

Hard cider has come a long way—especially most recently. With new legislation in New York allowing for numerous new farm cideries and tasting rooms to open, plus the abundance of good apples, more and more hard cider labels are popping up.

Hard cider has its roots in Colonial America, when apples were commonly planted and the resulting juice, or cider, was fermented to provide a stable beverage that was safer to drink than the water supply. The cider-making custom took a hit with Prohibition, as did any fledgling wine industry. Now, many years later, winemakers and cider makers are fermenting a wide variety of ciders, using traditional cider apple varieties and choosing sparkling or still products.

Unlike apples for eating, traditional cider varieties of apples are divided into four categories based on levels of acidity and tannins:

  • Sweets: This group is low in tannins and acidity.
  • Sharps: This group is high in acidity and low in tannins. The high acidity, together with that from the bittersharp group, can add ‘bite’ to the cider.
  • Bittersweets: This group is low in acidity and high in tannins. The raised levels of tannins, which taste bitter and astringent, adds bitterness to the cider.
  • Bittersharps: This group is high in both acidity and tannins.

Apples for cider making are ground into pomace and then the juice is pressed off, often in a traditional rack and cloth press. Cider sold fresh today must, by law, be treated to be deemed safe to drink. Typical treatments include flash pasteurization and ultraviolet light. For hard cider, the resulting juice is fermented and becomes hard cider. Ciders can be still, naturally sparkling or carbonated at bottling.

Hard cider is celebrated each fall with Cider Week FLX, a 10-day series of tastings, dinners, meet the cider maker events and more, (Oct. 2-11, including the Apple Harvest Festival in Ithaca (Oct. 2-4, The recently opened Finger Lakes Cider House at Good Life Farm in Interlaken is a good place to try ciders, with four local cideries represented: Good Life Cider, South Hill Cider, Black Diamond Cider and Redbyrd Orchard Cider. Pioneer Bellwether Cider is nearby on Route 89. Several wineries are also producing cider products, including Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards, Three Brothers Wineries and Estates, and soon Thirsty Owl Wine Company.

Our recent tasting of Finger Lakes and New York ciders included 23 hard ciders from a dozen cider makers. Many were elegant and dry, while others featured some residual sweetness and rich fruit aromas and flavors. Most were bottled in 750-ml. bottles and closed with a crown cap; others in the sampling are sold in 500-ml. bottles, or single serving 12-ounce or 16-ounce bottles or cans.

The ciders that earned our highest marks are listed here, all of which are sold in 750-ml. bottles.

Finger Lakes ciders to try:

  • Black Diamond Rabblerouser, $15.00
  • Good Life 2013 Cazenovia, $17.00
  • Black Diamond Shin Hollow, $16.00
  • Good Life 2014 Workhorse, $15.00
  • Black Diamond Slatestone, $15.00
  • Bellwether King Baldwin, $15.95
  • Eve’s Cidery Albee Hill, $16.00
  • Black Diamond Hickster, $16.00
  • South Hill Patina, $18.00
  • Steampunk Cider, $12.00
  • 1911 Founder’s Reserve Hopped, $9.95

Martha Gioumousis is a winemaker, wine writer and editor of Finger Lakes Wine Gazette and coordinator for the Tompkins County Community Beautification Program.

The above is excerpted from our Fall 2015 Issue.

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