Hard Apple Cidery Review: Sea Cider, Vancouver BC Canada

Hi Internet. Too much time has passed us by. It turns out that toddlers and bloggers mix like oil and water. My apologies.

Time to scratch the itch and wrap up our Vancouver Island drinks tour with one last review. To recap: Canada is not the Mediterranean.  Wine grapes struggle to reach ripeness in this cool, marginal climate. Yet Vancouver Island, oddly, shelters enough microclimates to encourage some to try their hand at wine-making. Results range from enamel-etching bubbly (read here), tart Chardonnay (read here), decent but pale Pinot Noir (read here), a fine Gamay (read here), a solid hybrid white (read here), to a mixed-bag winery that distills great gin and vermouth (read here),

Maybe we’re going about this all wrong. Let’s drop the grapes and give cold-hardy apples a chance. We roll from Victoria North into the rolling verdant farm hills of Saanich Peninsula. A gravel road bends up a cliff overlooking gleaming Cordova Channel.  Short apple trees for hand picking lead up to the white, decked, cidery and tasting room. The view stops us.

Apples Sea Cider View

Its name is Sea Cider: an Organic Certified ten acre farm with more than 1,300 trees of 50 heritage apple varieties. Kristen Jordan, a sixth generation farmer, bought and revolutionized the property in 2007 to make traditionally fermented artisan ciders. Today Sea Cider makes over 7,000 cases with distribution throughout B.C., Alberta, Manitoba, Washington State, Illinois, and Oregon.

The tasting room feels airy and light.

Sea Cider Tasting Room Small

We order both flights of everything and get to work.

Sea CIder Sampler
Sea Cider, Wild English, Heirloom Series, Vancouver BC 
A wild fermented cider of Dabinetts and Chisel Jerseys.
The APPEARANCE looks clear with a medium intense golden straw color. AROMAS smell strongly and of bandaid, charred bacon, earth, and lemon (actually typical of style). The PALATE feels ultra dry, with max acidity, extra tannins, a medium minus body, sneaky 7.5% abv, fizz is petilant. FLAVORS defy the aromas with lemon, Granny Smith skin, peach, dry and cracking game brett with Rubber tire finish.
It is Very Good (4 of 5), to type, if a bit leaner than some English ciders.
Sea Cider, Kings and Spies, Heirloom Series, Vancouver BC
APPEARANCE: a clear, pale, green. AROMAS smell clean and floral, with cinnamon, lime, salt, and green apple. The PALATE is off dry, again boasting oodles of acidity, lean, and lightly fizzy. FLAVORS range from lemon, lime, white pear, with a light soapy note, medium length.
A lean, dryish, pleasant enough cider for chips and company, Good (3 of 5) but simple.
Sea Cider Glasses Flight Close
Sea Cider, Pippins, Heirloom Series, Vancouver BC
A “sharp” style cider from Yellow Newton Pippin apples fermented cool with champagne yeast. Off-dry and chapitalized to 9.5%, it is an example of a New England
Pippins’ APPEARANCE looks a clear, light lemon. AROMAS glow with golden apple, light honey, and cardamom. The PALATE feels off dry with ample but tamed medium plus acidity, tannin, a fuller medium body, warmer alcohol 9.5% by volume, and a slight petilance. FLAVORS taste lovely and of light pineapple, cinnamon, cardamon finishing with vanilla.
Pippins is Very Good (4 of 5), not solely for its weight and alcohol, but its flavor complexity that could hold up to richer, saucier dishes like curries and even steak.
Sea Cider, Bramble Bubbly, Canadian Invasion Series, Vancouver BC
Yup, hard cider with tenacious blackberries added.
The APPEARANCE looks clear and medium ruby-colored with copper highlights. The PALATE balances well medium sweetness with medium plus acidity, and good tannic grip, mild bodied. Medium intense FLAVORS remind me of tart cranberries, even Cabernet Franc with a whiff of capsaicin.
Bramble Bubbly tastes dry enough, delish, is Very Good (4 of 5), pair withmeat and cheese platers, Thanksgiving fair, turkey sandwich?
That was nice. Time to get serious.
Sea Cider, Rumrunner, Heirloom Series, Vancouver BC
Sea Cider Barrel
You guessed it, Rumrunner, is rack cloth pressed, slow fermented with Champagne yeast, Bourbon barrel aged cider for a minimum of 6 months.
APPEARANCE: look at that sexy clear medium intense amber gold, leggy yet little fizzy.
AROMAS: bound about with dried vanilla bean, dried apricot, and toffee.
The PALATE is medium sweet and heady, a smirk of acidity, with a plump body, viscous texture, alcoholic heat that is not overbearing at 12.5% abv.
FLAVORS tastes intense and echo a Oloroso Sherry Madeira-like candied fig, vanilla, and oodles of toffeeeeee that lasts long.
Rumrunner is Outstanding (4 of 5), sexy cider, that has left its apple-origins behind to taste apotheosized, like a rum but sessionable.
Sea Cider Barrels Tubs

Tanks and barrels awaiting harvest.

Sea Cider, Pommeau, Sticky Series, Victoria BC
Made with Snow apples first brought from Normandy to Quebec, then distilled by Victoria Spirits, and then sweetened with juice from estate French apples.
The APPEARANCE looks a clear medium gold, brilliant, flashy and leggy.

The PALATE feels dry, with medium acidity, but too hot (19.5% abv), too much spirit kills the acid too heady.AROMAS & FLAVORS range from light Castile soap, powdered anise and vanilla, to creme brûlée 19.5% abv.

Pommeau is Good (3 of 5) but too much, maybe a palate clense.
Sea Cider, Pomona, Sticky Series, Victoria BC
Named after the Roman goddess of apples, this late harvest, iced cider of just crab apples ferments the concentrated juice with Sauternes yeast.
The APPEARANCE looks clear, a brilliant rose color, gold-fringed, and very leggy.
AROMAS smell of medium plus, soapy rose water, with a touch of game, cab franc capsasin and red cherry skin.
The PALATE is very sweet, but with taut medium plus acidity and tannins, grippy but syrupy, if a bit hot (17.5% abv).
You had me at “Sauternes yeast”. Pomona is Very Good (4 of 5), a bit wild but a great desert wine.
Sea Cider, Black Applejack, Sticky Series, Vancouver BC
Nodding to colonial moonshine, Black Applejack mixes hard cider, distilled cider, and blackberry juice. The result:
APPEARANCE: clear rich garnet color, thick-legged
PALATE: extra sweet but balanced by equal acidity and grippy tannins, sneaky 17% alcohol
AROMAS and FLAVORS: pretty darn intense black cherry, cinnamon, brightened by green apple skin.
Black Applejack is Very Good (4 of 5) and could swap in for Port as needed.
Apples Sea Cider View

Not a shabby view

With a decade under Kristen’s belt, Sea Cider deserves the awards and recognition she has garnered for it. The location is ideal, the patio view escapist, the staff is lovely and well-informed. Our toddler enjoyed roaming the orchard, sampling organic heritage apples (if a bit unripe). Sea Cider’s lineup is quite good, creative, and winkingly clever without annoying us.

Alexandria Apples Sea CIder

We also found blackberries

Here’s my video recap (clearly, the toddler has made me a touch tired…)

 

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Don’t Balk at Balkan Wine: Montenegro Wine Review Plantaze’s Vranac Pro Corde 2013

Be good to your mother-in-law. You never know when she might share wines smuggled from the Balkans. After our New Year’s Eve Serbian bubbly (read here), today we try a serious red wine from Montenegro: a country sandwiched between the Adriatic Coast, inland Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia to its North, Albania and Kosovo to its South.

This wine’s producer, Plantaze, today makes 40 different wines, from 26 grape varieties, and four brandies totaling 17 million bottles. They are Montenegro’s biggest deal, wine-wise, but started humbly with a 1963 agricultural merger that planted an “infertile wasteland” (their words) of rocks and shallow soil around Skadar Lake:

Montenegro Wine Regions

Onto this infertile wasteland they planted today’s grape Vranac: a native related to Zinfandel, with thick black skin, that makes it rich in proanthocyanidols. Now, I am not a doctor (nor do I play one on tv), but these grape skin things might help fight cancer and heart disease. However, Plantaze winery runs wild with this. They branded today’s wine, “Pro Corde” (‘for heart’), its the only one their website mentions by name, and even put a heart beat on the dang label (and box, and tag #classy #legal?).

Plantaze Vranac Pro Corde 2013

Until now, I had never tried Vranac (for shame!), nor knew Vranac was the grape until after tasting today (the shame of it all), so by dumb luck my ignorance makes this review a partially blind tasting.

APPEARANCE: A rich purple core, with a narrow, clear, bluish rim. Medium viscous wash and medium legs cascade the glass (Zin? Petite Sirah? Cabernet? Lambrusco?).

AROMAS: smell flinty, with caramel cubes, dark plum (maybe Merlot?), raspberry syrup and dried violets (maybe Zinfandel?), and mulling spices like dried orange peel and clove with medium intensity.

PALATE: again quite flinty and crunchy in texture, with medium plus tannins and acidity, a medium body, and a warm but blunt alcohol of 14% that burns to the finish. Get food!

FLAVORS: lead with a friendly fruity range of dried dark plum and raspberry syrup that turn to dried tobacco-laced oak, coals, and flint. The toasty barrel finish lasts a medium plus length

CONCLUSIONS: Plantaze’s Pro Corde Vranac 2013 (2013!) tastes taut, lean, and serious: like walking through a forest, which burned down last year, where now ripe wild berries have taken over. Each footfall snaps ashy twigs and smooshes black fruits. It is very good (4 of 5) but overly tannic and oaky. Thankfully, this wine has had five years to chill out. And after three days open, it mellows into a softer, friendlier wine, but still has oodles of tannic edge and acidity.  I would love to see it ten years old.

To grape Vranac’s credit, the grape can show complexity. I thought it was a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zin, and something native.  If you like Italian Primitivo, this will work. A few hours decanting, a few more years in bottle, and/or foods your Bordeaux or Brunello would like: peppercorn steak, most grilled animals, hard cheese, funky bries, mushroom rich pastas would all save your stained, dried palate.

The plus side about wines from the Balkans is that Plantaze’s Vranac red costs you $10 out there or around $16 stateside (if your can find it).

To your health then!

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Happy Nearly New Year 2019 Serbian Wine Review

My resolution for 2019 is to hone this dull, rusted blade that is waywardwine.com That starts with a wine from the fringes: sparkling Serbian wine by Kovacevic (pronounced “Co vah cheh vich”…probably…). Everyone needs a mother in law to smuggle wine from across the world.

Kovacevic Winery began in 1895. Their Brut comes from Vojvodina, in the Srem region, from Fruska Gora vineyards (my poor spellcheck hates me right now).

WRSerbiavelikiWEB

Srem has a pleasant, moderate, continental climate, hemmed in by Croatia and its Adriatic coast. The grapes blend Chardonnay and something called “Ryan Riesling” (possible relation to Ryan Renolds?). Secondary fermentation happens in bottle like Champagne. That’s all their website says. Let us open it:

Kovacevic Sparkling Brut Serbia

APPEARANCE: A clear, light pale straw yellow with an aggressive froth, retained white head, of medium-sized fizz.

AROMA: smell like a like wet warm straw, nutty and bready, with dried chamomile, dried mint, with medium intense candied pear and candied lemon peel.

PALATE: feels crisp, with tame residual sugar (12 grams?), green medium plus acidity, medium alcohol, and edgy sparkle.

FLAVORS: taste grassier and greener. Lemon juice, pith, and verbena lead the show but laced with a Splenda-like sweetness that lasts a medium length.

Kovacevic’s Brut is very good (4 of 5), clean, if a bit aged, overly fizzy and jangly. But for 1680,00 RSD (or $17.00 before import, tax, et cetera), their Brut works as a left-field New Year’s bubbly. Pair it with bries, sushi, white fish and other salty fair.

So, with that cheers and Happy New Year!

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Thanksgiving Wine Review 2003 Lange Pinot Noir Cancilla Vineyard Willamette Valley Oregon

Happy Thanksgiving (apologies turkeys)!

The two-year-old is asleep, so I have to pop out a wine review, before the moment slips. For Thanksgiving, something supple, medium bodied, mildly tannic but with good acidity to keep the food coming. It is a worthwhile moment to share an aged wine and something American.

Lucky us, a beer friend offloaded his 2003 Pinot Noir by Lange from the Cancilla Vineyard in the Willamette Valley of Oregon.

Lange Pinot Noir Cancilla Vineyard Oregon 2003 The APPEARANCE looks a medium intense garnet with a medium clear rim, casual lean legs, and a touch of sediment.

AROMAS glow of medium intense honey, dried orange peel, black cherry paste, strawberry, brooding clove and nutmeg powder.

The PALATE seems rich, thanks to a thick velvet texture, but is medium in body, silky smooth for two thirds until a twang and tannic finish.

FLAVORS still hold pleasantly fresh and complex, with black fruits akin to dark cherry and blackberry, light cigar ash, iron flecks, wrapped in a mellow honey of medium plus length.

Fresh into the glass, Lange’s 2003 holds well and is outstanding (5 of 5) for its age. However, do not forget it. As each hour passes that fruit falls out, inch by inch. By the end of a meal it is a shadow. Nice work for the holiday.

 

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A Canadian Winery (and Distillery) Eh!? De Vine Vineyards Wine Review

Wayward Wine continues to ply the uncharted wines of Vancouver Island. It has been rough, but we found some decent Pinot Noir (read here). This marginal-in-the-best-of-times climate manages to counter its Northern latitude by bottling any warmth it can from the eastern straights with its western mountains. The best example: the Butchart Gardens utopia that traps tourists with its improbably lush gardens:

Butchart Gardens

Mom and kiddo soak in the sunshine.

But after milling for hours through the throng and flora at Butchart Gardens, you could use a drink.  Luckily, a mere six minute drive will get you to De Vine Vineyards (an easy 22 minutes from Victoria). So we take the narrow drive up a hill, and yes, pass real vineyards.

De Vine Vineyards vines.jpg

These grow normal, everyday grapes like Pinot Gris and Grüner Veltliner.  A chunk get made into spirits, but more on that later. Our core question: can De Vine buck the brutal acid and imbalance of other Vancouver Island wines. To the tasting room!
De Vine Vineyards Alexandria Ext

“Beware” is right!

While our 22 month old daughter causes havoc in the parking lot, and patio, and garden, and tasting room, and winery, and well… everywhere… I pull up to the bar. It looks tidy and fine in here, replete with reclaimed wood trimmings and bottle shelves:

De Vine Tasting Roome

The diligent staff fill me in. Winemaker, Ken Winchester, a Montreal native, left his garage winemaking, studied at UC Davis, built 15 acre Winchester Vineyards in Paso Robles and saw decades of success.  He also studied distilling at Islay Scotch icon Bruichladdich. But in 2002, he returned to the cold climes of Vancouver BC, and soon came under the wing of the Windsor family and their De Vine Vineyards.

We start with Gewurztraminer crossing Siegerrebe 2017 $22

De Vine Siegrebbe 2017

It looks like pale lemon water. Yet aromas pounce with enough lychee, citrus, star gazer lily and tropical tones to remind of its Gewurztramier heritage. But do not let the nose fool you. The palate feels near dry, clean, with ample but tame acidity, and medium body, with some viscosity.  Flavors range from snappy Granny Smith apple, lime, and white pear. Dev Vine’s Siegerrebe is a very good (4 of 5) white ready for summer or various light dishes.

Next, I have high hopes De Vine’s Estate Pinot Gris $22
De Vine Pinot Gris 2017
This is not your plump, sweet yet vapid Italian Pinot Grigio. No. Twangy aromas and flavors run from peach to oodles of lemon lime and salt. It feels lean taught and steely. If your enamel can handle it, De Vine’s Pinot Gris is very good (4 of 5).
Fleur White Blend 2017 $22 comes from upland Alsatian grapes: Maeline Sylvaner, Pinot Auxerrois and Schönburger.
It looks watery pale. Honestly, it tastes sweet, yeasty, underdeveloped, but rounder and more approachable than otherwise. It is acceptable (2 of 5) but clearly compensating.
To the reds.
DeVine Pinot Noir 2017 Vancouver Isalnd CA
We already pitted De Vine’s 2017 Pinot Noir against other island Pinots (read here). Long story short, $28 gets you a bright, soft, bubblegum, berry and earth, quaffable but forgettable red (3 of 5) thanks to carbonic macerated grapes akin to Beaujolais Nouveau style.
Luckily, De Vine makes a Marechal Foch, 2016 $28
Wait, who? No your not in Napa anymore, Toto. Marechal Foch, named for the synonymous marshal who ended WWI. I have not seen this funny Alsatian hybrid since living in Upstate New York and Nova Scotia (read here).
The appearance is a purple ink. Flavors and aromas glow with blackberry compote, red cherry, medium acidity and well integrated muscular grippy tannins. 18 months in French oak barrels gives it a tobacco mocha that level up the quality to very good (4 of 5), worthy of a bottle purchase.
Look around De Vine and you quickly realize that wine only covers one side of their coin. In the lab, next to the tasting room, looms a vintage German copper pot still, named Brünhilde.
Still De Vine Vineyards
Winemaker Ken Winchester also studied distilling at no slouch Islay icon Bruichladdich. Remember those vineyards. Well, Canadian law requires that they distill half of what’s grown. So that Pinot Blanc and Grüner Veltliner make it into quite a few of De Vine’s liquors.
For example:
Sitka Vodka
Yup, grape vodka. It tastes clean, simple, a touch edgy. Imagine if Le Croix made a new flavored sparkling water by sitting this vodka across the room while someone whispered “pinot blanc”.
I digress.
De Vine’s other spirits draw from strawberries, sloe berries, ancient grains, and honey. I feel a bit bewildered and it is not the alcohol.  I had hoped to try De Vine’s single malt Glen Saanich, but sadly members snap it up. Here are some spiritous highlights:
The Honeyshine Mead silver tastes clean, with clover, meadow foam, and light spice making it for a great mixer (4 of 5)
Their Gins are solid, especially the 1600 recipe Genever, with common (Harry Potter) household ingredients like mugwort, wormwood, horehound, and blessed thistle, all and more of which make for a plump, citric,  warming, exotic nip (4 of 5 very good).
De Vine Gins
We also grab a bottle of Moderna Vermouth ($22) based on a 1786, 30 botanical Turin Vermouth recipe, with its base both their wine and spirit. Neat, it tastes spicy, with pepper sticky spruce sap carrying on a long, green finish. De Vine’s Vermouth may be bit tannic but remains very good (4 of 5).
In sum, Winchester is doing his darnedest with Vancouver Island’s tart grapes, while exploring every possible spirit style at his fingertips. De Vine sits atop a lovely hilltop. They feel pleasant and polished. Their range will have something to keep any weary traveler warm.
(Also, if you want to slip back into the United States, do not bore boarder guards with your list of wine purchases. The mere mention we bought Vermouth got us through two checks. Codeword: Vermouth).
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