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Two ciders from Northern Europe

Continuing our theme this month of reviewing international ciders, I’ve got two bottles from Northern Europe to share with you. I think it’s quite easy some time to forget about life outside of the UK cider bubble. Given the UK’s level of cider consumption to the rest of the world and some very fine drinks being produced, you can be forgiven for looking inwards a little. However, there are some outstanding drinks being produced across the world, including in some regions and countries where the history of cider making is either relatively recent or being picked up again after many years of absence. There are also countries who have centuries of tradition around apples and cider making, which if you gaze too inwards you will miss out on. So here’s to always seeking to discover new ciders and perries from new makers, new countries and new continents. 

Today I have a bottle from Mr. Plūme in Latvia, which I purchased from Cider World and a bottle from Jaanihanso in Estonia, which I purchased from Two Belly in Bristol, after the Cider Salon in 2019.

Mr. Plūme is a multi international award winning husband and wife run ciderie in mid Latvia. They have been making cider, wine and spirits since 2010. Using locally sourced fruit as well as more recently, from their own orchard. A strong focus on the fruit, the orchard and the land, they have sourced rare, wild, non-native apple species (including UK bittersweets) and even cultivated their own. They cite the perfect weather of the baltic, fertile soil and well positioned orchard along with selecting quality fruit as the keys to making their drinks. They have both worked on cideries in Austria and Normandy to gain the skills and knowledge with which to start their own experiments and cider journey. 

Described as a sweet, non sparkling, modern apple cider, which is a great alternative to white grape wines and pairs well with desserts and fruit. Recommended serving is chilled 7-9 degrees in a white wine glass which is exactly how I had it. 

Mr. Plūme – Ābolu Sidrs, Salds, Negāzēts (6.5%)

Colour: light gold

On the nose: green apple, apple brandy, ice cider, citrus notes of lemon zest plus tinned peaches/nectarine and pear drops.

In the mouth: A surge of sweetness sweeps the palate. There is Tarte Tatin, along with pear frangipane. A gentle brush of green apple acidity tempered by juicy ice cider sweetness and a hint of brandy. It tastes like there should be more alcohol than there is. Reminds me of Brannland Pernilla Perle. It is super juicy, with baked apples and vanilla.

In a nutshell: a superb example of what a sweeter cider can taste like, drink with dessert or as dessert.

I’ve been a fan of Jaanihanso since first meeting Alvar and Veronika Roosimaa at the first Cider Salon back in 2018. Their label and bottle presentation stood out across a very crowded room (remember those). Jaanihanso is named after the 18th century farm they bought back in 2000, which they have renewed and added to. Starting small with home experiments for friends, Alvar then attended cider classes in the UK and did some work at Burrow Hill before returning to Estonia to start a commercial cider journey. They now have orchards of several thousand trees and one of the most beautiful tasting rooms I’ve ever seen (must visit some day). Cider in Estonia, or apple wine as it’s called there, is an essential part of the culture with every house having their own tree and small press. It’s hard to believe with that much history that Jaanihanso were the first commercial cider venture, but others are now following. Alvar and Veronika focus on wild and slow fermentation coupled with traditional bottle fermented methods. 

Described as a medium dry fruity cider with gentle bitterness from late winter apples, made in the traditional method. Suitable for fancy parties as well as lazy summer picnics. Best served at 8 degrees from a white wine glass. 

Jaanihanso – Sec (2015 – 5.8%)

Colour: pure gold

On the nose: wood, leather and spice (clove & nutmeg). Stone fruit, calvados and pressing cloths.

In the mouth: when a little colder than the recommended serving temp there’s bristling acidity that rumbles down the tongue whilst the tannins taste a little edgy/harsh and the finish tastes dry. Allowed to warm slightly as it should [Ed: patience before opening James] and it really opens up, softens and sweetness. Full of red apple skin and juicy fruit, the apple is the star and is captured beautifully. It’s still tasting very well for it’s age but different to how I remember it back in 2019. I wouldn’t want to leave it much longer before drinking now and actually wish I’d opened it a year ago, when I can’t help thinking it would have tasted even better.

In a nutshell: an all round stunning bottle that should be drunk right now, unless you have a newer vintage. 

Conclusions

I’m sad on several accounts, firstly that I’ve now finished these two bottles and have no more, secondly that they aren’t readily available in the UK and thirdly that I won’t be able to visit in the near future. However, Northern Europe is well and truly on my list for a cider tour, these two bottles are an outstanding advert for the region. Plus I will now start a petition to find an importer for these wonderful producers. If you ever see either of these two bottles for sale, and any other from them for that matter, buy immediately.

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