Adult Apple Cider from France
By Jim Clarke
One of the side benefits of the craft-beer revolution in the late
80s was a revived interest in hard cider. Not only did several American
brewers begin making their own cider, but several British companies
also got in on the act. Strongbow began importing
their ciders on a larger scale, and Woodpecker
even began producing cider here in the U.S. following their Old
All this gave a strong beer tilt to cider in America. Ironically,
the process of making cider actually resembles winemaking much more
than it does brewing. Apples are pressed and the resulting juice
is fermented; there is no malting or mixing of hops. But because
the marketing and distribution system of beer and wine in the U.S.
remain fairly distinct, a more beer-like style dominates the U.S.
hard cider market.
French cider makers, however, have long maintained a more wine-like
style of cider. Their ciders are often lower in alcohol and less
sweet than their British counterparts, with fruitier flavors, a
lighter texture, and higher acidity. Texturally they often resemble
Champagne, and in fact they bottle their ciders in similar bottles,
with cages and corks. This greater complexity and their acidity
in particular make them especially good with food.
Cider’s French home is Normandy, where it has been made since
the Middle Ages. Norman cider remains an artisanal, hand-crafted
product; larger industrial companies have never gotten as involved
in cider making there as they have in England. France and England
both have apple orchards with varieties specifically grown for cider,
whereas eating apples are used in the U.S. French cider apples are
typically small, warty, and unappealing to the eye; they are also
relentlessly tart and unpleasant to eat. It is only when they’ve
been pressed and fermented that they show their virtues.
Much of the cider maker’s art lies in blending a number of
different apple varieties to create a well-balanced beverage. Single-variety
ciders are a possibility, but have not been much explored as of
yet. The most important skill for a French cider maker, however,
may be an obsession for cleanliness. French cider is made without
preservatives, and because of its low-alcohol is more susceptible
than many beverages to becoming tainted or flawed by infections
that could ruin the delicate flavor of the cider. Attention to these
sorts of difficulties has made French cider more stable and easier
to export in the past decades.
Domaine Christian Drouin
Calvados producer Domaine Christian Drouin has been making cider commercially
since 1962. Their facility in Coudray-Rabut is a former stud farm
which they renovated in 1990; its late Renaissance architecture makes
it a beautiful spot to visit. As with winegrapes, mature trees are
important for obtaining fruit that will create beverages of depth
and complexity. For that reason, Christian Drouin is still sourcing
their grapes from older orchards near their former location in Gonneville-sur-Honfleur
while they wait for their orchards at Coeur de Lion to develop.
They harvest the trees by shaking them and taking only the fruit
that falls, which then finishes its ripening in a loft. Drouin uses
about 70% bitter or bittersweet apples, 20% sweet apples, and 10%
high-acid apples. After crushing the apples are macerated briefly
before being pressed. A lengthy, fermentation follows: 3 months
in vats followed by further time in the bottle, where the carbonation
can be trapped to give the cider its fine mousse of bubbles. The
Domaine Christian Drouin Cidre Pays d’Auge AOC is
the color of a deep pilsener with a foamy, beer-like head that is
belied by the smooth texture in the mouth. It shows a complex blend
of baked apple, cinnamon, and earthy aromas. The appley notes are
fresher in the mouth and followed through by a long, gingery finish.
as with grapevines, in orchards with poor soils the trees dig deep
for nutrients; consequently they produce fewer but more concentrated,
characterful apples. This explains the number of cider makers in
the Pays d’Auge region of Normandy. Drouin’s neighbor
Domaine Dupont has been making cider and Calvados there since 1837.
In France, there is even an AOC system for cider just as in wine,
but Dupont has chosen not designate its ciders under the system
because they feel that the paperwork process makes it too difficult
to get their cider to market when it is freshest. The Etienne
Dupont Cidre Bouché Brut de Normandie 2002 is a
medium gold, with a light head. Its apple aromas are quite earthy
and rich, balanced out by touches of leather, flowers, and citrus.
Dupont has also recently begun making a completely organic, USDA
certified cider, the Etienne Dupont Organic Cidre Bouché
Brut de Normandie 2002 is quite Champagne-like, with a
pale golden color and light head. Apple and floral aromas are filled
out by honey notes and cinnamon. It’s a very refreshing, elegant
cider with a long, appley finish.
Bordelet, former sommelier at the three-star restaurant Arpège,
may be the ultimate example of how a wine-based approach to cider
rules the roost in France. Many sommeliers aspire to eventually
become winemakers; encouraged by renowned Loire Valley winemaker
Didier Dagueneau, Bordelet turned his sommelier’s eye instead
on the ciders of his native Normandy. All of the trappings of classical
winemaking make their way into his ciders: old trees, low yields,
and terroir all mean as much in the orchard as they do in the vineyard.
He produces ciders at three levels of sweetness, all with a light
mousse and apple, floral, and spicy notes. However, the highpoints
of his portfolio are the “reserve” cuvées Sydre
Argelette and Poiré Granite; the
latter is made from 300-year-old pear trees. The Argelette is crisp
and elegant, with an aroma and flavor of poached apples leavened
by citrus and spice. The Poiré Granite is very Champagne-like
and dry; the pear aromas are subtly balanced by citrus, flowers,
and earth, and the finish is long and complex.
At the Table
All of these ciders make great matches with food. Apple desserts
are an obvious pairing, and many crepes also get along quite well
with cider. But it is on the savory side where the distinctive acidity
of French cider can show its values at the table. Cream sauces partner
fantastically, as do a number of cheeses: think Brie, Cheddar, or
Fontina. Chicken and seafood are also strong possibilities; I was
particularly impressed by a pairing of cider with mixed shellfish.
The touch of sweetness in the ciders also allows them to balance
spicier dishes, which can be problematic with many wines.
One last pairing: When I was a kid it was an autumn ritual for
my family to go out to the cider mill and drink cider with fresh
cinnamon donuts. These days I find that French cider goes great
with donuts, too, and gives a relaxing adult spin to my sentimental
Both of the above are imported by B. United International;
see their site for additional information
Bordelet (site in French only). The ciders are imported by Jeroboam
Wines, but their website does not offer any inofrmation about
the ciders at this time.
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