More French perry. That’s my starter for ten, if we’re talking wish-lists of what ciders and perries I’d like to be able to buy in an imaginary perfect cider and perry world.
I’m tremendously intrigued by the Australian and American cider scenes, and from a satisfying-my-curiosity point of view I’d like greater availability there. I have bemoaned the complete lack of anything from Austria on more than one occasion, and I’d love a few more Asturian and Basque ciders to snuggle on our digital and physical shelves. But if I’m picking simply based on how outrageously good a whole category from a whole country is and how much I would love to be able to access a range of it, then yes. French perry. That’s the one.
Admittedly there are a few over here already. We’ve covered one or two of them – the Bordelets are probably the most famous, and the Templar’s Choice is one of the best value-for-quality perries I’ve tried in ages. Côme Isambert is a producer I admire tremendously and whose absence from these pages is a significant oversight (too many ciders and perries and too few of us to get through them). And Château Sassy (another Cider Review absentee so far) are very reliable and fairly easy to find. And that’s about it.
I’ve been pining for poiré ever since February 2020 when my tiny mind was blown by the quality I was able to taste at CidrExpo. Fourmond-Lemorton, Antoine Marois, La Galotière, Vergers de la Morinière, Ferme de l’Yonnière, La Cave Normand. Just a handful of exceptional – I mean properly exceptional, star-conjuring, Damascus moment stuff – producers whose perries I long to clutter up my hallways with and write glowing endorsements of for you lot.
Admittedly, to generalise a bit (this is the internet, after all) what I’m pining for is predominantly made in a particular style (keeved, pét nat) and mainly from a particular pear (Plant de Blanc). French perry isn’t as diverse as I would like it to be, though there are notable exceptions to this rule, as we’ve discovered before. Predominantly French perry is influenced by the savoir faire of the Domfront Appellation, and even perries made outside Domfront don’t tend to stray too far from their playbook. So on the whole I can scratch my poiré itch to a certain point with such English bottles as Oliver’s Keeved perry, and I’d certainly advise anyone to do likewise.
But the idle daydream, which perhaps at some point in the dim and distant future I’ll make something of, is to hop back over the channel and spend time really digging into a category which is proving resistant to the internet-based autodidacticism of which I wrote in last Saturday’s article. I want to know more about varieties besides Plant de Blanc, and what they all taste like. I want to uncover the perries which haven’t been made in the classic AOC Domfront manner and compare them to those that have. I want, in brief, to be able to unpick my generalised notion of “French perry”, because the category so obviously deserves better than that. Perhaps, unbeknownst to me, there’s a Cider Review equivalent in France which could go some way to helping me understand it all. If there is, and you’re aware of it, answers in the comments section please.
Anyhow. Returning to reality. If I can’t fill up on French perry for the time being, how about the next best thing – English perry made from French pears – which is just what Little Pomona have now bottled. It isn’t the first such thing we’ve encountered on Cider Review – the Downsides and subsequent The Newt perries bottled by Paul Ross contain a portion of Plant de Blanc, and the trio of Halfpenny Greens I tasted just a few weeks back are made entirely from French varieties. But this is the first English perry I’ve come across to have made a virtue of using French varieties and detailed it all on the label.
This being Little Pomona, the perry in question is certainly not made in the stereotypical keeved, sweeter Domfront-and-most-of-the-rest-of-France style, but has been fermented almost to dryness and then bottled before fermentation was complete to achieve the natural carbonation implicit in its “Pét Nat Poiré” name.
Since we’re on France, “pét nat” is worth a quick aside. I saw (and, inevitably, waded into) an interesting debate on twitter recently that questioned the use of the French term “pét nat” for English products made in a way that has admittedly been practiced in this country for centuries. My own mildew take is that a. There is a corps of new drinkers coming to cider from the wine world for whom pét nat has immediate resonance and clarity, b. Producers and retailers have seen that the term “pét nat” on a label generates income and interest, so they are hardly likely to change it, c. ‘Bottle conditioned’ – the usual alternative term – can mean any one of a few different things, as we’ve mentioned in our taxonomy, whereas “pét nat” refers specifically to one particular method and d. Language in general and English language in particular is an evolutionary and constantly-shifting creature which has been built over thousands of years mainly out of words and terms poached from other vocabularies. It can’t be dictated for and trying to halt its progress is a bit like trying to stop the flow of a river by throwing a boulder into it. Of course, if you prefer and can understand the process more easily with a different term then by all means use it, and vote with your wallet for the products that deploy it. But my own sense is that cross-category standardisation of language for what is, after all, the same process, is generally to the long-term benefit of both a nascent category like aspirational cider and to its growing body of drinkers. There is a reason English Sparkling Wines tend to say “méthode traditionnelle” on their labels. Anyhow – just my rambling tuppenceworth, with which you are, of course, welcome to wholeheartedly and vocally disagree in the comments section below!
Pét Nat Poiré is the fourth in Little Pomona’s “Pét Nat Perry” series, none of which (somehow) we have featured here before. Although we did look previously at their Do It Puritan! Perry 2019 and, more recently, the Hard Rain Ghost Perry 2020, a ‘perrykin’ made from the rehydrated pomace of the very pears that made today’s Pét Nat Poiré.
So, partially in the name of seeing how French varieties compare against their English counterparts, and partially to indulge my completionist proclivities, I’ve dug into my cluster of “saved for a special occasion” cardboard boxes to line up the full flight of Little Pomona Pét Nat perries.
Although all have been fermented to dryness and bottled pét nat, each has deployed a different pear (or blend of pears) as the engine of its flavour. 2017, the oldest, was based around Butt which, as we’ve previously ascertained, is a high-tannin late season variety. 2018’s anchor was Red Pear, first seen on this website in the form of the single variety from Tom Oliver and much-enjoyed a good few times since. The first 2020 was the “rare pear” – a single variety Brinarl, made from just two rows of trees and which Little Pomona believe to be the first – or certainly the first recent – bottling of perry from this pear. (Indeed James tells me that the variety was generally thought not to be suited to make perry at all). Then there’s the new Pét Nat Poiré, a week or two away from release at the time of writing, and made from Longbois, Faucett and Antricotin. None of which I know very much about so far as flavour is concerned, nor have been able to find much about through assiduous google digging. (Any French readers who can give us some pointers here, please make free of the comments section!)
Since the 2017 was released a couple of years ago, and is from Little Pomona, it has unsurprisingly sold out everywhere I could think to look. The 2018 has virtually disappeared too, but a great deal of digging unearthed it at premierhop for £15.95 (Don’t say I don’t spoil you – but get your skates on if you want one of the last bottles). The 2020 Brinarl is available in a good number of places; Beerzoo ask £17.50 per 750ml, at The Cat in the Glass it’s £16.50, Fram Ferment have it for £16.15 and the Fine Cider Co are at £53 for 3 (presumably about £17.50 if you buy it separately). James tells me that the Pét Nat Poiré will cost somewhere around £15 and your best bet is to check in on the Little Pomona website on the 24th October (or, if you’re a member of their club, a bit earlier).
And just for one last compare-and-contrast, let’s throw in something actually French. We met Pacory, of Ferme des Grimaux in our first ever perry article and I loved their l’Ideal so much that it featured in my year-end ‘Essential Case’. They were the first Domfront producer cited by my French cider sensei, Camille, when I asked her for perry recommendations, and her praises of them were echoed by French cider and perry expert Mathilde when I interviewed her on the subject of Pommeau. They set, you might say, a high bar.
Today I’ll be tasting their classic Domfront AOC Poiré, bought from The Cat in the Glass for £9.50 and, so far as I can quickly ascertain, the only Domfront Poiré you can currently find on these shores. There isn’t much information about this particular bottling, but since the label says Domfront AOC we know that it is keeved, is naturally sparkling, has been made from a minimum of 40% Plant de Blanc (probably loads more – possibly even single variety), is full-juice, unpasteurised and has been made from fruit harvested after it has fallen from the tree. So actually quite a lot.
I was so pleased to find a Domfront perry available in the UK that I made it one of the trio at the virtual Manchester Cider Club ‘Perry Special’ I co-presented with Alison Taffster of the Hop Inn and Hop Shop back in May, but didn’t have the opportunity to make detailed notes on my thoughts at the time. Let’s see what I reckon today.
Little Pomona Pét Nat Perry 2017 – review
How I served: Medium chilled
Appearance: Buttery gold, fine mousse
On the nose: This has developed magnificently. What a gorgeously complex and generous nose. The twists of herbs are still there (almost a touch of hop!) but the fruit has broadened and ripened into mango and melon, skins and juice, even taking on dried aspects without losing primary fruit freshness. Touches of vanilla. Peaches and cream. Super-ripe grapes. Superb.
In the mouth: A satsuma and orange skin arrival sashays into underripe pineapple and fresh apricot, shot through with citrusy acidity and that twist of savoury herbs. Tannins are perfectly integrated and ripeness and freshness balance beautifully. Lift and joie de vivre from the delicate mousse allow the fruit total freedom of expression
In a nutshell: Utterly superb, developed, complex dry perry.
Little Pomona Pét Nat Perry 2018 – review
How I served: Medium chilled
Appearance: Similar but with a touch of haze.
On the nose: Deeper, more robust and almost earthy nose, with that gorgeous brush of pear skin roughness. Peaches and peach pits. Pear juice and hedgerow greenness. Stony rainwater minerality. This is the sort of nose I associate with archetypal Herefordshire perry.
In the mouth: Again fuller-bodied, with that pear skin depth and the juiciness of pears and stone fruit. A brush of tannin adds heft without astringency. Mousse isn’t as fine as in the 2017 which adds to the textural nature of this perry. This is a drink of countryside walks and sea caves. Not just a blast of fruit, but a complex, mineral drink rooted in the outdoors.
In a nutshell: Contemplative, profound perry. A Herefordshire classic.
Little Pomona Pét Nat Perry 2020 – review
How I served: Chilled
Appearance: A touch lighter. Light haze. Bright mousse.
On the nose: Super aromatic and very high-toned. Star fruit, white grapefruit – juice and pith – crystallised lime. Smells just like the pears did when I ate one at the cidery. Emerald green. Vivacious, bright, high-definition aromas.
In the mouth: Everything I just wrote. An electric zip of acidity and then a blast of exotic citrus notes. Yuzu, star fruit, preserved limes. A little rhubarb and gooseberry too. Think Sauvignon Blanc on steroids. Super clean and bright – one for fans of Discovery and Thorn.
In a nutshell: Perry in high-definition. An exotic citrus bomb.
Little Pomona Pét Nat Poiré 2020 – review
How I served: Medium-chilled.
Appearance: Pearlescent gold. Moderate mousse.
On the nose: The most overtly pear-forward yet – ripe green and yellow pear fringed with light green citrus and a pronounced florality that has me in mind of both fresh flower petals and potpourri. Broad in its perfume, though softer – less intense and direct – than the 2020 Brinarl. Fragrant and lovely.
In the mouth: There’s a lemon’n’lime zestiness that’s almost unexpected after the softness of the nose. Lager and lime ice lollies (a sudden throwback to my youth there). The round pear fruit gives it a lovely juicy middle, offset by delicate herbs, kiwi and more of that floral potpourri. Absolutely delicious.
In a nutshell: Dry, complex, refreshing joy with definite shades of both France and the Three Counties in its flavours and style.
Pacory Poiré Domfront – review
How I served: Chilled
Appearance: Bright gold, spritely mousse.
On the nose: So, so gorgeous. Intense, ripe, golden, honeyed pear, white blossom, fresh hay and a spritz of tangerine oil. Huge in its aromatics – perhaps not insanely complex but so pure, so compelling, so clean and ripe and wonderful and singing with Plant de Blanc.
In the mouth: There’s nothing like the delivery of a good Domfront Poiré. That perfect dovetail of acidity, balanced sweetness and intense, pure, honeyed fruit. More citrus than on the nose – massive satsuma – but again it’s the golden pear and apricot that really star. Even purer and more intense than the nose was, its generosity of flavour belying a gossamer-light body.
In a nutshell: So poised and clear and compelling and beautiful. A ridiculous bargain for the money.
There’s no perry in this lineup that you shouldn’t buy on sight. All five stunningly individual and distinct, swaggering through a glorious gamut of perry’s flavours. No two of the Little Pomonas are alike, though all are a delicious advertisement for dry perry. The 2017 has matured gloriously, and the 2018 still has years in the tank if you can bear to save some (though is epic now as well). The Brinarl, I think, is for drinking young and fresh, at its most vivid and arresting, whilst the 2020 Poiré is the meditative, complex and serene one to stash a couple of bottles of aside if you can, and savour slowly when you open it.
Pacory. Well, I’ve no fresh superlatives for them. Domfront perry remains one of my favourite things in the world and I will never stop wishing for more of it on our shelves and in my life. Hopefully, in the rosy future, UK drinkers will have a few more Domfronts to choose from. In the meantime rejoice that we have this one, and buy a bottle or two as soon as you can.
A bottle of Pét Nat Poiré 2020 was provided by Little Pomona. It doesn’t affect our opinion or our editorial control, but we always feel we ought to mention such things.