I’ve written it here umpteen times before, but it bears repetition: for cider to really develop and grow, it needs to take a more international outlook.
The wonder and joy of wine is that I can walk into any shop in the country – any supermarket, in fact – and come away with something tasty from a far distant land. Shuffling the aisles of a bottle shop is globe-trotting writ grape, every country offering flavour and expression that nowhere else can conjure. Give me a Malbec from France and the same thing from Argentina and I’d bet a brass penny I could tell you which was which, and show my working. I have never been to Chile or South Africa or New Zealand or Tuscany or the Languedoc or Alsace, but I can tell you what they taste like when their grapes are pressed and bottled.
If I’m lucky enough to taste something special from the Burgundy’s Côte d’Or I’ll feel the breeze and sunlight of a slope I’ve never stood upon. If there’s a sherry in my glass my mind’s eye squints against dazzling white bodega walls I’ve only ever imagined. I’ll taste something that nowhere else on earth could quite bring into being and my own little world in a corner of West Reading will feel bigger and more full of wonder because of it.
When it comes to cider, the drinks tendrils barely spread beyond its home region, never mind across international borders. Artistraw, Cwm Maddoc, Bartestree – three phenomenal producers who were all but unfindable until the events of the last year forced their hand and dragged them online. Beyond Britain, four of the world’s oldest cider and perry producing countries are Spain, France, Austria and Germany – all, in normal circumstances, within a day’s drive. All with their own fascinating, complex, established cultures and styles and makers and flavours; all conspicuous by their virtual absence from UK shelves.
If I look hard and google creatively I can possibly find as many as four or five Spanish ciders available to order in this country. France offers slightly richer pickings – perhaps as many as a dozen are available, but most of those are from the big two co-ops, involve various degrees of dilution and concentrate and aren’t representative of what I know France’s best to be. (My conversation with Camille from Calyce Cidre last year can enlighten further, should you be curious). As for Germany and Austria – forget about it. You’ll find a couple of Swedish makers (not including Kopparberg and Rekorderlig), a couple from America, one or two from elsewhere and that’s broadly your lot. The picture is very much the same in France and Spain, where most people assume that the sum-total of English cider is Strongbow.
Unsurprisingly, the trickle-down affect of this paucity of availability is relatively muted conversations between those cultures. I don’t know a fraction as much as I’d like to about Austrian perry, for instance, and Australia – which I know has a thriving culture of winemakers creating wonderful full-juice ciders – might as well be the dark side of the moon. If it weren’t for books from the likes of Susanna Forbes or Pete Brown I’d know even less.
Shared awareness, knowledge and – ultimately – demand, is how high-juice, aspirational cider will grow from its tiny niche into a true global force. The quality, increasingly, is there; everyone I poured a glass for from the haul I brought back from CidrExpo remarked how good those French ciders and perries were, how much they wished they could get hold of some themselves. The Basque Country and Asturias regions in Spain have improved their output no end, have introduced PDOs and tiers of quality, recognising excellence among producers and raising standards across the board because of them. In America, CiderCon has gone from something with a handful of attendees to a conference over 1,000-strong in less than a decade. And every country has its own apples, its own skills, techniques, philosophies and flavours to share and explore, if we only knew where to look.
Cider Review already has a modest international following, and I want it to be as internationally-relevant a site as possible. James and I both live in the UK, so in the long-run I would love to bring in voices from across those global cultures. In the meantime we will do what we can to shine the broadest possible light over the orchards and cideries of the world.
So that’s going to be our theme this month. “Anywhere but England”. A taste of what the big, wide world has to offer. Regrettably, for reasons which have hopefully been made fairly obvious by this point, that means that many of the bottles we’ll be covering won’t be available to those of our readers in the UK. (Though we hope that won’t deter you from looking – and of course most of the bottles we review aren’t normally available to our readers overseas.) But today I’m kicking off with a few that can be ordered on these shores, in the form of the range from Eric Bordelet.
Eric Bordelet is one of the shiniest stars in cider and perry’s international pantheon. A former sommelier who wanted to apply his wine learning to cider, he’s made cider and perry on his 23 hectare estate since 1992. And the reception has been significant – in both my interview with Pomologik’s Johan Sjöstedt and Brännland’s Andreas Sundgren (neither a slouch on the apple-wrangling front) Eric Bordelet was cited as their personal lodestar. “A huge inspiration for me. His determination, passion and attention to detail is something I look up to,” was Johan’s comment. More memorably emphatic was Andreas’s “I would stand on any cider maker’s living room table in a pair of dirty boots to say that the greatest cider maker of our time is Eric Bordelet.”
Bordelet’s domaine is tucked just inside Maine, the province bodering both Normandy and Brittany. A quick peek at his website (admittedly not the most detailed in the world – but what cidery’s is?) nods instantly in an oenological direction – there is a clear geological focus, with the flagship cider and perry named after their respective terroirs: Argelette (iron-rich, schist-like reddish rock) and Granit, which I imagine you can probably translate for yourself. Fruit is specially selected from legendarily old trees – apocryphally Bordelet doesn’t believe pear trees to be ready until they hit 60-odd years of age, and some of those he harvests from have hit their triple century. He uses 30 different varieties of apples and 20 of pears and almost all of his creations, true to the French norm, are made in the “ancestral method” (wild-fermented, keeved, bottled pét nat – our taxonomy can unpack these terms if they’re unfamiliar).
The 2018 vintage Granit appeared in my “Essential Case of Cider and Perry” back in January 2020, when I thought my cider writing would be confined to just two articles and wanted to present the very best examples I could think of. But since then we’ve not touched on any Bordelet creations which, given they are internationally available, feels like an oversight.
So today we’re taking a comprehensive look at the Bordelets you can buy for yourself in the UK. In the pear corner, Poiré Authentique is a biodynamic perry from unsprayed orchards that’ll cost you £12.50 from CITG or £13.20 from Fram Ferment whilst Granit 2019, the successor to that which I reviewed last January, made from those three-hundred-year-old trees weighs in at a distinctly special-occasion £22.50 from Cat in the Glass or £18.95 from Fram. Then holding up the apple end: Brut (made from approximately 15 different varieties including Douce Moene and Sang de Boeuf; £10.50 from Cat in the Glass, also available from Fram Ferment for £13.20) and Argelette 2018, (made from the best fruit of the vintage and £16.50 from Cat in the Glass). All come in 750ml bottles and are available, should you miss out on the Cat in the Glass or Fram, at a handful of other natural wine websites online. I just link to those two because I feel I ought to point towards cider/perry specialists first and foremost.
One last curiosity before I crack on – neither the Poiré Authentique nor the Cidre Brut displayed a vintage on the labels, yet both had one stamped on the top of their cork when I removed the cage. Cat in the Glass lists the Brut as a non-vintage blend (the cork said 2017) but the website’s description of the Authentique being the 2018 tallied with the cork’s stamp, so I have assumed the corks in both cases to be accurate. Happy to be corrected, should anyone have more information.
Eric Bordelet Poiré Authentique 2018 – review
How I served: Chilled
Colour: Pale gold, crystal clear
On the nose: It is the precision, the clarity and the intensity that get you. As faultless as a perry nose could be. Beautiful, clear aromatics; bright yellow citrus – almost quince – with riper melon and fleshy pear. A little florality – honeysuckle, maybe. Just so fresh and enticing.
In the mouth: Again, utterly pristine. The brightness and clarity intensify the flavours and a healthy zing of mouthwatering acidity offsets the sweetness as might a good Riesling. The pure citrus, yuzu, pineapple and riper melon are given full, beautiful song. I don’t know the cuvée breakdown; I’d wager Plant de Blanc is playing a significant role here, but it’s more complex than that. Epic.
In a nutshell: You might find as good, but I doubt you’ll find a better perry anywhere for the money.
Eric Bordelet Poiré Granit 2019 – review
How I served: Lightly chilled
On the nose: Cleaves to similar themes to the Authentique and certainly the brightness of citrus and ripeness of melon are here, but everything seems bigger, weightier, more concentrated. There is a depth too, as though of the skins of the fruit rather than solely the flesh, all atop a profound wet rock minerality. I don’t think it’s confirmation bias to suggest that this is unquestionably expressing more than just the pressed pears. A superb nose.
In the mouth: Follows through precisely and again hearkens to the Authentique, but in a bigger, deeper, more intensely concentrated way (although the acidity is a touch softer). Sure, there’s a good bit of sweetness, but the body, flavour and acidity balance it perfectly. A brush of tannin and an intense, pristine blast of tropical, citrus and pear fruit before that clean seam of stony minerality.
In a nutshell: Sublime already, but has everything it needs to improve and improve for well over five years or more.
Eric Bordelet Cidre Brut (2017?) – review
How I served: “Cellar” temperature. (Half hour in the fridge, in my case)
On the nose: Real depth here. A woody, lignin spiciness. Dried citrus rind. Big blood orange. Still a lot of the perry’s precision, but this is a burly, husky, spicy sort of drink. Quite rich. Medium intensity. Very nice, if not quite in the same “watcher of the skies when a new planet” kind of league as the perries. (Which, to be fair, is a ridiculous yardstick to set).
In the mouth: Really balanced. Mousse and body well weighted, tannins add structure without being coarse. Again there’s a lovely playoff between dusky orange fruit and forest floor spice. If this were English I’d guess it was a blend of Dabinett and Harry Masters’ Jersey – that’s the sort of flavour camp we’re in. Some pithy bitterness and copper pennies on the finish. Off-dry to medium.
In a nutshell: This is a really good cider, and excellent value. It just happens to share its stable with superstars.
Eric Bordelet Cidre Argelette 2018 – review
How I served: Same as the Brut
Colour: Deep copper
On the nose: Oh for goodness’ sake, that’s magnificent. The deepest, juiciest orange and passion fruit and mango. Tendrils of vanilla and orange oil and just a whisper of savoury spice. So generous in its aromas and again the clarity is without fault. One of the best noses on a cider that you are likely to find.
In the mouth: Doesn’t miss a beat – the depth and concentration and balance and intensity are superb, the flavours translated perfectly from the nose and intensified. Just a touch off-dry, with gorgeous ripe fruit and rich, perfectly-integrated tannins. The orange and spice notes dry and intensify towards the finish with just a light, refreshing pith.
In a nutshell: Utterly faultless, juicy, expressive, spellbinding cider. Buy as much as you can.
Did my heart love ‘til now? Forswear it, palate.
It’s difficult to communicate just how impressive these ciders and perries are in their cleanliness, their intensity of flavours, their concentration, balance and length. As best I can do is to say that the Brut 2017 would have been a standout in the majority of flights I’ve tasted for this website, is a wonderful cider well worth your time and its entry fee, and was absolutely buried by its three stablemates here.
What really stuck with me, tasting them, was that a lot of ciders and perries, made in this way – not fermented to absolute dryness – often taste predominantly like apple or pear juice. Very tasty apple or pear juice, but there is a magical and unknowable point in the fermentation of fruit at which it stops tasting like juice and begins to taste like something else; something more complex and fascinating. All of these creations have stepped over that ineffable line and they are the more remarkable for it.
When other makers describe Eric Bordelet, the word that tends to resurface is “precise”, and tasting this flight I feel I know exactly what they mean. Every cider and perry here seems considered; a result of the careful nurture of fruit. They seem exactly as their maker would like them to be, whilst reflecting their fruit, their place and their vintage. I don’t think you can ask much more of a cider or perry than that.