When I told friends that I was visiting my home country of Québec for the Christmas holidays this year, the 1st thing I heard back from them was "brrr, it will be cold"... Indeed, such is the reputation and, this year, we were not disappointed!
Perhaps, this is what makes the people in Québec so interesting. They embrace winter in the same way they embrace summer. Going to the full extent of what the cold season can offer. Even when it comes to making wine, or cider!
The cold is in fact a wonderful technique to concentrate sugar. And where there is concentrated sugar, there is also wonderfully rich, luscious, and complex wines. Here in Québec, the speciality has been for many years the production of apples, not only for juice production for also to sell fresh to supermarkets all over North America.
And so, there is now an alcoholic speciality made with iced apples: the ice cider and one of the pioneer of this style is La Face Cachée De La Pomme in Hemmingford, at the border with the USA. This week, I took advantage to visit them and to taste their flagship products (you can see my photo album here). It also turned out to be an interesting exercise in production techniques.
Première and Réserve are made in a special technique called "cryo-concentration". They picked the apples very ripe and keep them in a special warehouse in temperature overing +1 C unti the first freezing temperatures of winter. Them they will press them and store the juice in large plastic bins which will be put outside for 3-6 weeks at temperatures overing around -4 to -6 C. This period will see the water separate from the juice. Because water is less dense than sugar it will freeze and the sugary juice will not. They will then collect the super concentrate and super sweet must, about 1/3 of the original quantity, and ferment it. For Première, it will be in stainless steel for 6 months while Réserve will see its must ferment for 8 months, 50% of which in oak barrels (2nd use red wine barrels from US producers).
Première will be filtered and bottled straight away while Réserve will be blended with 50% fresh cider and 50% aged cider and then bottled.
Récolte d'Hiver is different in that the apples will be left on the trees until January when the temperature will drop to - 15C. Here it is very important that the apples be healthy. During the period before picking, the apples will dehydrate and will be exposed to the elements (sun/wind/rain/snow) thus acquiring extra concentration and also extra complexity. When freezing temperature appears, the water will concentrate at the core of the apple while the sugar will tend to be pushed towards the surface. If the apples would be picked at a lower temperature than -15C, they would be too soft and collapse on picking. But at -15C, they are hard enough to pick. On arrival at the cellar, they will be pressed immediately so that only a super concentrated and sweet juice will flow. A very tiny percentage of the juice will be used for this wine - it will take about 50-80 apples to make a single bottle! The must will then be fermented for 8 months and bottled right away.
So, what does it take like?
Neige Première 2009
The color is sustained & deep golden. The nose is fresh and intense. Vibrant. Baked apples with slightly vegetal notes. Very delicate touch of burnt caramel. Complex. The palate is luscious but very well balanced. With 151 g/l in residual sugar, it is still supple with a refreshing acidity. Mouthwatering. A lovely finish. Long with finesse.
Beautiful cider. Fresh & delicate, as promised by the wine making.
Neige Réserve 2008
The color is sustained & pale amber. The nose here is more complex and more "sugary". Again the apples but this time bruised. Certainly spicier and more tropical in style. Touches of dried mango & apricot with notes of candied pineapple. Caramel and cinnamon. Lovely nose. The palate luscious and round. Certainly showing its 190 g/l in residual sugar. A little heavier than the Première, dragging down the length but still showing a refreshing finish.
Great cider. Richer and more roasted & showing more spices in style.
Neige Récolte d'Hiver 2009
The color is sustained & deep amber. Lovely. The nose shows depth, intensity and breed. Super complex and all delicately interwoven with bruised apples flesh, baked apple skin, brown sugar & cinnamon. It reminds me of a desert my mother used to serve us after playing hockey outside in a cold autumn day... The palate reveals more
tropical aromatics: dried apricots, mangos and candied pineapples again. A touch smoky. It is luscious very much showing its 270 g/l in residual sugar but also well balanced by a zingy acidity. The length is long, complex and fresh.
Excellent cider. The richest of the 3, the most complex, and certainly the most roasted in character. Lovely.
As I posted on my Facebook page, since I have started studying about wine in the context of the WSET and now the MW, I have seen what I look forward to taste change quite a bit. At the beginning, 6-7 years ago, I was thrilled by fancy labels and famous origins. Now, what thrills me is the quirky, the unusual, and the remarkable. Before tasting such wine, I get an intense buzz from listening to a wine maker on how he made it and trying to imagine what it is going to be like. This tasting was exactly like this. Wonderful to compare & contrast each style and lovely to match them to their wine making techniques as they so faithfully demonstrate.