A tasting with cider maker Mark McGill and winemaker James Healy this month led to interesting comparisons between cider and wine, two drinks that normally wouldn't be talked about in the same breath, let alone compared. And yet there are likenesses in each, if they are made from authentic raw material rather than being doctored with sugar and water. Which used to be the case with wine prior to the rise of Vitis vinifera grapes (the wine family of grapes) in countries new to winemaking, and which often remains the case with products labelled 'cider'. We at Regional love stocking and selling products that are as authentic as possible and made from the best raw material as their producers can find, but there is a place for lighter styles without the high price tags that such integrity often requires.
Abel cider - why it's different
In a word, champagne techniques. Here's the gist of it. Abel cider got us thinking about how wine and cider can be similar. It is made by McGill and his wife, Sophie, who grew up with wine as James Healy's daughter.
The McGills were living in Melbourne when they first began craving a more apple-y tasting cider and since they had a tree in their own backyard, they decided to try their hand at it. Next minute, they were using the kitchen blender and fermenting the juice. That was in 2007. They liked the result but Mark decided to ferment the whole fruit with the skins on in small batch ferments in 20 litre buckets. This meant they had to buy apples and pears at markets to get an idea of which varieties worked and, as importantly, which don’t.
The role of acidity
“We like freshness and acidity so we looked for juicy apples and pears that had firm acidity in order to balance the sweet flavours of the fruit, then we decided to make methode cider. It’s essentially apple champagne, so we found some growers to work with and released our first vintage in 2016 from 2015."
The project that is Abel cider began as a labour of love and from the start, the cider has been bone dry, with not sugar in the final product. It is like a champagne in terms of production too because the cider spends 18 months in the bottle before release - the same minimum legal aging time for non vintage champagne and for all bubbles made under the Methodé Marlborough regulars.
Later this year, they will release their first non vintage cider and they are changing their 500ml bottle to a 330ml bottle, more in line with a single serve.
They also make Abel Chardonnay, the first vintage of which was 2018.
Abel Cider 2018
Dry, full bodied and complex. Real cider. Serious texture and the flesh is all about the light grippy tannin; 6.5% ABV. Hand picked fruit, no fall apples. The fruit is put through a mill at the winery into open top tanks and fermented on full skins with the full mash of the apple. A Riesling yeast is added then the cider is fermented dry, drained, pressed off and put a little through malolactic fermentation, often 50%, to soften the tart acidity. The wine spends six to 12 months on lees and is bottled with no fining or filtration.
2018 Abel Tasman Chardonnay
This was the first vintage and is an impressive full bodied, dry and textural white wine of real beauty, highlighting Nelson's strengths as a predominantly white wine region. They have now made five vintages and the fruit sourcing has changed as they wait for their ow vineyard block on James and Wendy Healy's land to become productive.
We have just taken stock of the 2019 Abel Chardonnay so have both in.