What méthode champenoise cider can bring to your drinks list

Susanna Forbes

14 August 2019

Méthode champenoise sparkling cider has the chance to add something different to your drinks list – but only if you, in turn, think differently. So said Alvar Roosimaa, co-founder with his wife Veronika of award-winning Estonian cidery Jaanihanso, during his masterclass at this year’s Imbibe Live.

‘There is this strange concept that cider is an alternative to beer,’ observed Roosimaa. ‘It’s not.’ In fact, he believes that restaurants and bars should bring cider from the bottom of the beer list into the wine list.

The idea of aligning sparkling cider with wine is not as large a stretch as you might imagine. Seventeenth-century Royal Society records show that sparkling cider (cider crafted with a second fermentation in the bottle) predates Dom Pérignon’s arrival at the Abbey of Hautvillars. As it turns out, it was glass producers in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire who first created glass strong enough to withstand the pressures that build up in the production of sparkling wine. So perhaps it is not that surprising that terroir-driven sparkling cider is making a comeback in adventurous restaurants and bars.

Roosimaa should know. As well as being poured in over half the top 50 restaurants in Estonia, Jaanihanso features in dozens of leading US restaurants, including Nonesuch in Oklahoma City, voted Bon Appétit Best New Restaurant in 2018. Roosimaa is also ‘very happy’ to be working with Albert Adria, brother of Ferran Adria (El Bulli), at the El Barri group, including its flagship, the Michelin-starred Enigma Concept.

Food for thought

As well as substituting for sparkling wines from prosecco to champagne, with alcohol levels north of 6%, long lees ageing, plus flavour there is enough length and body in méthode champenoise ciders to partner foods as robust as barbecued meats or grilled pork.

From his own stable, Roosimaa shared his fragrant Brut 2015. With its zesty sparkle and well-built palate, it works well solo but is equally at home with the likes of oysters and stronger dishes.

HQ, a fascinating off-dry cider made with quince and local honey, with its stronger acidity due to the quince, is good with fish, rich buttery sauces, ‘or even curry’, said Roosimaa.

Rosé is without doubt in fashion, said Roosimaa, and it doesn’t have to be sweet. Look for local fruit additions. Jaanihanso Rosé includes wine made from blackcurrants – ‘like the Nordic grape’. At the annual Jaanihanso CiderHouse Dinner, with the nation’s leading chefs behind the stoves, his rosé is one of most popular cider-food matches. Duck is a particular favourite, Roosimaa said, whether crispy or long roasted, the acidity works well.

To make progress, Roosimaa said it was ‘absolutely critical’ for chefs and kitchen teams to join the tastings.  ‘Let’s be honest, outside very big cities and international gourmet hotspots, many restaurants do not employ their own sommelier, at least not full time. That makes the connection with the chefs even more important. And the image of cider needs to be reformed, restarted, recreated – and kitchens are the perfect place to start.’

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