Features & guest posts | Is cider more food-friendly than wine?

Features & guest posts

Is cider more food-friendly than wine?

Susanna Forbes of Drink Britain reports on a vigorously fought contest over dinner at The Thatchers Arms near Colchester last month

"As one of the organisers, along with our host, the affable landlord Mitch Adams, I was confident that cider could hold its own against even the most tastiest of dishes. But even I didn’t think it could win 4: 1, particularly once I saw the big guns our wine champions were recruiting to their cause.

But first a little background. Mitch loves all drinks. A host with the most, he is a beer’n’food matcher extraordinaire. He organised a lively Beer vs Wine charity dinner back in 2011, with telly’s Tim Atkin MW squaring up against writer and beer expert, Adrian Tierney-Jones.

So The Thatchers Arms seemed the perfect home for this, the first contest between wine and cider. Eighth-generation Aspall cidermaker Henry Chevallier-Guild joined Beer Writer of the Year Pete Brown who was in the midst of finalising the first major global book on cider, World’s Best Cider, to champion cider, while Harper’s Best Sommelier of the Year, Emily O’Hare of the River Café, teamed up with Dan Probert, manager of Adnams’ Holt Cellar & Kitchen store in the wine camp.

The scene was set. Before dinner, guests enjoyed a glass of Aspall Cuvée Chevallier, an elegant, light sparkling cider made in the methode traditionelle. Once seated, a show of hands revealed that only a handful of people had ever tried cider with food. Even fewer felt it could win the evening’s match.

Following a few introductory words, the gloves were off, and battle commenced.

Broccoli & Parmesan Soup with Homemade Chilli Foccaccia

Vallobera Rioja Blanco 2011, Spain; £7.99, Adnams
El Gaitero, Spain, 5.5%; £1.55 33cl; Slurp.co.uk, Waitrose

Cider hits home first – 44:17

A creamy broccoli soup given a salty tang with Parmesan, was won by El Gaitero, from Asturias, northern Spain, where the cidermaking tradition goes back centuries. Production is ‘very strictly controlled’, said Pete, before explaining that El Gaitero was chosen for its slight pepperiness. The Vallobera Rioja Blanco 2011 had been aged in oak, giving it a pleasant creamy weight. To my mind, the soup stripped the wine’s aromatics, deadening the match, whereas the light, baked apple notes of El Gaitero with its sparkle provided a good balance to both soup and foccaccia.

Mackerel Fillet with a Fennel, Mint & Parsley Salsa & a Pont Neuf Potato

Gouguenheim Torrentés 2011, Mendoza, Argentina; £6.99, Adnams
Aspall Premier Cru, Suffolk; £2.59/50cl; Aspall, Adnams

Wine strikes back – 43:18

An exceptional dish a with vast array of flavours, demanded complexity in the glass. This was achieved with both Aspall’s Premier Cru, with its elegant, balanced tannins, and the Gouguenheim Torrontes, with its expressive aromatics. Floral notes on a backbone of gentle but textured acidity provided a fine counterpoint to the dish’s uplifting green notes.

Slow Roast Blythburgh Pork Belly with a Homemade Duck, Pork & Sage Sausage & Tomato & Mixed Bean Cassoulet

Quinto do Crasto, Crasto Tinto 2010, Douro Valley, Portugal; £9.49; Adnams
Henney's Vintage 2011, Herefordshire; £2.09/50cl; BeersofEurope.co.uk

Crunchtime – Cider pulls it off – by just one point – 31:30

As arms went up with the Red (for wine) and Green (for cider) cards – we’d gone all Ready, Steady, Cook – table by table, the room silenced. Two recounts later, cider took the course, by just one point. Created by former-Bulmers cidermaker, Mike Henneys, his Vintage 2011 presented a three-pronged attack: a solid but balanced tannic backbone to match the strength of flavours on our plate, a pleasing cider apple sweetness to complement the sweetness of the pork, and a good astringency to partner the tricky, but tasty, bean cassoulet.

Quinta do Crasto’s Douro red 2010 was no slouch, as the score indicates. Its time in oak gave it a good texture and depth, while its pure fruit flavours sang alongside the pork. Perhaps a little young for this match, in my view it was overwhelmed by the cassoulet.

Eddy’s Sour Cherry Cheesecake

Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé NV Champagne, France; £52.99; Berry Bros & Rudd, selected independents
Aspall Imperial Cyder, Suffolk; £3.08/50cl; aspall.co.uk; BeersofEurope.co.uk

Wine fails to break back, losing 21: 32

Perhaps the trickiest match, pastry chef Eddy is renowned for his cheesecake. One bite and we could see why. A light cream mousse is set off beautifully by sour cherries. The Billecart-Salmon Rosé showed class, with sprightly connotations of red berries, and an elegant but persistent sparkle. It seduced many of us, including Mitch and myself, and our two Cider advocates.

However the room disagreed, voting for Henry’s grandfather’s recipe, Aspall Imperial Cyder, with its mix of bittersweet and dessert apples plus a dash of muscovado sugar. Its medium nature and good depth matched the sour cherry while the fine sparkle cut through the creaminess of the pud.

Suffolk Gold & Binham Blue Cheeses with chutney & biscuits

Gonzales Byass 'Vina AB' Amontillado, Jerez, Spain; £13.59; Adnams
Once Upon a Tree Blenheim Superb 2011; Herefordshire; £16/37.5cl;
Once Upon a Tree

Match of the day – 58: 3

Cider now had an unassaible lead, but could Wine redeem itself on the cheese course? Err… no. 58: 3 to cider

Rather than play safe and opt for Sauternes or Port, the Wine team went out on a limb, choosing a solera-aged sherry, replete with nuts and dried peel. The only trouble was, it was way too dry for the two local cheeses.

Instead Once Upon a Tree’s dessert cider, the Dragon Tree Blenhim Superb, ran away with the Match of the Day tankard. The honeyed sweetness and depth of cooked apple plus the ripe mandarin and peach flavours complemented both the salty tang of the Binham Blue and cutting through the creamy texture of Suffolk Gold, a semi-hard farmhouse cheese. No wonder they call this sort of ice cider the apple world’s equivalent of Sauternes.

I’d like to thank…

Thanks go to all involved, including Aspall, Adnams, Billecart-Salmon, our cider and wine champions plus the marvellous crew, both front of house and in the kitchen, at The Thatchers Arms.

DrinkBritain.com champions all British drinks, specialising in artisanal producers, and those who offer a warm welcome to visitors. To keep in touch with drinks news, events such as the above, and great places to visit, subscribe to its newsletter, or get in touch via Twitter (@DrinkBritain) and Facebook.

Dominic and Ashley, student members of the Offshoot Films Club, captured the evening on film. You can watch it here on YouTube.

Other retail stockists for the wines can be found on winesearcher.com

Susanna Forbes is editor of Drink Britain website.



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