Hestia is a much-underrated goddess.
It’s because she doesn’t go in for the dramatic, of course. She doesn’t have a thunderbolt or a magic sword or a spork of power or any such over the top enchanted paraphernalia. She doesn’t gad about philandering unwary mortals or have overwrought, soul-tearing affairs with giants or dryads or horses or sundry mystical supporting characters. A Hollywood Hestia drama would emerge less like those heinous, oversexed, overgored, overwrought sword and sandal messes and more like Kramer vs. Kramer. Depending on your preferred mythological canon she even steps down from the dodecatheon to make way for boozed-up party boy Dionysius.
And yet any offering made in Greek antiquity would be preceded by a separate one to Hestia. Because Hestia is important. Because Hestia was the goddess of the hearth.
We’re not much for hearths any more. Central heating and all that. But the drivers of the hearth’s ancestral importance – warmth, comfort, safety, shared conviviality – remain just as central to our modern notions of community as they ever were. Were we to revert to the religion of the ancient Greeks, a twenty-first century Hestia would likely be the protector of radiators and Netflix and Zoom and microwaved popcorn and the dinner table.
Drinking at the dinner table has an entirely different image and character to drinking at, say, the pub. (Yes, I realise there are tables in pubs too.) Pubs, to my mind, are as much about the energy, the atmosphere, as they are about the contents of your glass. There may be food and the drinks may be interesting, but we all know you can drink better for less by staying at home. The pub’s role and raison d’être is distinct and apart.
I think “table drinking” also sits in a separate sphere to what I’d call “appreciation drinking”. Appreciation drinking heroes the bottle; places the drink as the main event. I drink most whiskies for appreciation, rather than with food. And, whilst they might well go with a meal, I’d say that certain wines tend to overshadow that with which they are being paired. Strictly speaking Haut-Brion, Penfolds Grange, Opus One and Le Montrachet would count as table wines, but you’d never couch them in such terms. In the wise words of Sideways, “the day you open a ’61 Cheval Blanc, that’s the special occasion”. Not that I’ll ever find out.
Table wine is different. It puts the drink on equal footing with the food. A contributor to the experience rather than the sum-total. It paints, to my mind, pictures of al fresco chomping in rural Italy or of charcuterie and tumblers of red in some southern French bistro – neither of which are experiences I’ve had, mind you. It is the picture of conviviality, of la dolce vita, of eating and drinking well, but not excessively, in good company.
That’s not a picture in which cider has recently played a huge part. Certainly not in the UK. I got a glimpse of it when I visited the Basque country; that fusion of food and drink in the wonderful, head-spinning hubbub of txotx, and I gather the Norman and Breton experience runs along similar lines. But in England the image of cider cleaves too closely to the pub, the sofa, the park bench. Outside tiny pockets of the south west it’s not a readily thought-of foil for food; seldom drunk and shared in the way of table wine.
So I was intrigued when two cideries near-simultaneously launched bottles labelled “table cider”. Indeed Little Pomona used it as their bottling’s name. Both they, and Wilding in Somerset, have packaged their table ciders in 750 ml wine bottles – sharing bottles – and neither features particularly intricate process, extremities of oak, off-piste varieties or any other overt wonkishness. Both are simply blended, dry, full-juice ciders designed to accompany a meal table. To quote the Little Pomona label, “our Table Cider reflects the sheer, joyous drinkability of great cider, its natural affinity with food … Table Cider makes for happy company in any conversation or meal.”
I can’t give you much apple detail as regards the Little Pomona besides knowing that half of it is Egremont Russet, an eating apple, and the other half are assorted bittersweets and bittersharps. Wilding’s Commix 2018, also labelled “table cider”, is a little more forthcoming: Yarlington Mill, Browns Apple, Stoke Red, Herefordshire Russet, Dabinett, Harry Masters Jersey and Porter’s Perfection.
I should mention cost. At £8 a bottle the Little Pomona Table Cider is more humbly priced than the rest of their range, but is still above the national average, even in 750ml format. I’ve heard complaints before about this sort of pricing; a good topic for another article. My take is that for a full-juice, undiluted, small-batch cider in a 750ml bottle, presuming it is not faulty, £8 is more than reasonable. Indeed, in many cases, charging less would have a negative affect on the quality of cider that producer was able to make. If you want nice things you have to be prepared to pay a fair price, folks. As with most Little Pomonas there was a special early-bird discount for their club members. I bought a bottle for £6.50, though it’s only fair to mention that I was separately given a bottle as a free review sample.
The Commix isn’t actually priced much differently to the other ciders in Wilding’s range, at £9.50 a bottle from Scrattings. Wilding haven’t particularly expanded on what they mean by “table cider,” simply used it as a descriptor on the label. But it made for a close enough link to pique my curiosity and inspire this article. I don’t take much prompting.
Bottles on the table then and into the glass we go.
Little Pomona Table Cider Batch 1 – review
Colour: Hazy mid-gold.
On the nose: Bright and freshly juicy, if not quite in the same aromatic league as some Little Pomonas of our acquaintance. Lemon fruit pastilles and green apple. A light touch of farmy sulphur – from the conditioning perhaps? Fresh orange rind and light vanilla. It’s on the simple side, but pleasant stuff.
In the mouth: More forthcoming. Still that bright freshness, but it’s fuller, more vivacious and insistent than the slightly retiring nose. Clean, citrusy acidity is to the fore with just a brush of light tannin behind. No trace of that light sulphur, this is medium-bodied, dry, super juicy with lemon and grapefruit and passion fruit and fresh vanilla. Orange juice in sparkling water (a childhood staple). The fizz is ever-so-light, just adding a touch of extra exuberance. There’s a smidge of that Egremont Russet nuttiness, too. It’s fresh, it’s rounded, it’s very easy-drinking. Nice.
Wilding Commix 2018 – review
Colour: Hazy mid-bronze.
On the nose: More intense, deep and heavy-duty than the Little Pomona. Very ripe apples, just starting to brown. Brown sugar, dried oranges, dried mango and forest floor. A little cooking spice. There’s a bit of oxidation, too. So ripe there’s almost a perception of sweetness. A little ginger syrup.
In the mouth: Dry and full-bodied with firm, woody but not astringent tannin. Ripe apples and blood orange. Christmassy spice. The acidity is very mild – just a little dried pink grapefruit. It’s driven by tannic fruit, this; a burly, big-boned, autumnal beast. Lots going on, but the flavours are just a little bit smudged by that oxidative element. Sits at the other end of the octave to the high-toned, acid-forward Little Pomona, but is similarly about delivering fruit in broad, accessible strokes.
I like both of these without being completely blown away by either. Which I suppose is partially the point of a table cider. The more time I spent with the Little Pomona the more I liked it. Its palate has more to offer than its nose, for my money, but it was my favourite of the pair and I can see myself buying a good few more bottles and making it a bit of a dinner staple. (Top tip: it later went marvellously with some smoky, medium-spiced fajitas.)
The Wilding was the geophysicist’s pick of the pair, and I did find a lot to commend in its ripe, fulsome fruit. It was just short of a bit of clean-lined definition, for me. A bit blurred in its flavours by a touch too much oxygenation. Not quite as expressive and engrossing as others in their range have previously been, to my taste. I’d um and ah about a second bottle at £9.50. Could go either way. Make of that what you will.
What I certainly give an unequivocal thumbs up to is the concept of table cider itself. 750ml bottles needn’t always be seen as swanky and swaggering and show-off. What they ought to be, what they already are in the world of wine, is the best way of sharing a good drink with a good meal in good company. The language of cider, as Andrew Lea told us when we interviewed him, should be a gradual evolution. “Table cider”, should it enter more common parlance, feels like an addition that could help steer that evolution in a very positive direction indeed.
A free sample of Table Cider was given to Malt by Little Pomona. Which doesn’t have any bearing on what we say about it – we’ve been plenty critical of things we’ve been sent in the past – but as a reader and potential buyer it’s important that you’re given this sort of information.