As many a clued-in drinker will tell you, hard cider is having a moment. But ice cider? That's a new one.
This concentrated apple-based dessert wine is still under the radar but quietly gaining fans (ahem, Martha Stewart), mainly as the result of Quebec-based winemaker Christian Barthomeuf. Two decades ago, he decided Canada's cool climate was better suited to apple than grape growing and began experimenting with the techniques of making ice wine (or eiswein) with apples instead. The idea—to allow the fruit to freeze on the vines (or branches) before fermenting it, thereby concentrating its sugar—has been around since Roman times, though 20th-century Germans perfected the art.
Making ice cider is labor intensive—it can take nearly 10 pounds of apples to make just one bottle. Barthomeuf's small operation, Clos Saragnat, remains the ne plus ultra of ice cider makers, but due to his minuscule production and the vagaries of importing, it's only available for purchase on-site. Luckily, he's spawned a small but growing cottage industry across the border, most notably at Vermont-based Eden Ice Cider, run by husband-and-wife team Eleanor and Albert Leger, who just won a Good Food Award for their efforts.
So what's the appeal of these honey-hued liquids? "Eisweins are sometimes sickly sweet and can be quite expensive," Eleanor says. "Like a really good Sauternes or Tokaji, a well-made ice cider has the acidity to balance that sweetness, without the price tag." Ice ciders make for versatile pairing partners—Eleanor recommends sipping it alongside foie gras, blue cheese and anything salty or porky, or desserts like crème caramel, cheesecake or ice cream. But, she cautions, "Don't serve it with a really sweet dessert, because then all you'll taste is the acidity." Noted.
New York-based Slyboro Ciderhouse, Quebec's La Face Cachée de la Pomme and Eve's Cidery are all worth seeking out retail. In New York, Eden's Heirloom Ice Cider, a blend of a dozen biodynamically grown heirloom varieties, graces the wine lists at Gramercy Tavern and Del Posto, and the outrageous single-variety, barrel-aged Northern Spy bottling is featured in a cocktail at ABC Kitchen. Midwesterners can sample Eden's goods at Chicago's The Publican or Cleveland's Trentina, and those on the West Coast can pick up a bottle at The Wine House in Los Angeles.
Now that's a sweet ending.
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