Taking their cue from a robust Quebec industry, Ontario producers are now elevating the status of the apple and making gorgeous ciders. Close your eyes, take a sip, and prepare to be transported straight into the orchard on a crisp fall day
By David Lawrason
The McIntosh apple was discovered by United Empire Loyalist John McIntosh when he spied a few wild apple-tree seedlings while he was clearing land near Morrisburg, in the St. Lawrence Valley south of Ottawa. The year was 1811. He transplanted the seedlings to his garden, but only one tree survived, producing its now famous Mac apple until 1908. The tree tipped over in 1910 after almost 100 years of service (as we all would). This bite of history is now more appropriate than ever, given that production of apple cider is on the rise along the St. Lawrence corridor.
In Ontario hard cider (apple cider with alcohol) is a small industry struggling for consumer and regulatory recognition — still very much in the shadow of beer as a beverage of casual contentment. Few apple-only producers are active in Ontario, among over 30 producers of other types of fruit wines, and only two are listed at the LCBO. (A Prince Edward County neighbour is now dabbling in cider, as well, without commercial production yet.) However, the situation is much more robust in Quebec, where — perhaps inspired by the apple-based calvados industry in Normandy — there are more than 40 producers of hard cider, many also making gorgeous ice cider from frozen apples. Two Quebec companies in particular — Domaine Pinnacle and La Face Cachée de la Pomme — are putting Quebec ice cider on the world map, with exports to Europe and Asia.
When you explore ciders, you will find many styles — from sparkling to bone-dry and from oak-aged to those flavoured with other fruits and spices. And let’s not forget the super-sweet dessert styles. But no matter how rendered, the core apple aromas (pun intended) must be pure and easily identifiable. And it’s even better if they transport you right into the orchard on a fall day. Some of these offerings are available at the LCBO. For others, you might want to take an autumn drive to the wineries or contact them directly to inquire about purchasing and shipping.
Applewood Farm Iced Cider
$12.95 • Stouffville, Ontario • 90 points
Like many pick-your-own orchard operations, this family farm northeast of Toronto has turned to production of hard cider. This sweetie has a wonderfully floral, almost peachy nose with generous honey notes. It’s very thick, sweet, and rich on the palate, so chill it and serve with fruit-based desserts. Great price compared with icewine. 375 mL. applewoodfarmwinery.com
DRY AND SEMI-SWEET STYLES
Cremant St. Nicolas Sparkling Light Cider
$11.80 • Quebec • 91 points
This very light (2.8 percent alcohol) semi-sweet cider has exquisitely pure honeyed yellow-apple aromas, while tart acidity and piquant effervescence effortlessly balance the sweetness. It is a perfect autumn picnic or patio lunch wine to go with soft cheeses, terrines, and pâtés. LCBO 61671.
Waupoos Premium Cider
$13.35 • Prince Edward County, Ontario • 88 points
This dry, sparkling hard cider is made in a historic orchard in Waupoos, centre of the County apple industry and once the summer home of Sir John A. Macdonald. Made from native Ontario- and European-bred cider-apple varieties, it is light (6.5 percent alcohol), crisp, and delicate, with a great sense of earthy autumn fresh-picked authenticity. Sold as a four-pack of 341-mL bottles. LCBO 612804.
Archibald’s Hard Currant Sparkling Cider
$11.95 • Bowmanville, Ontario • 88 points
From a rolling moraine orchard north of Bow-manville, Fred Archibald deftly makes a range of apple-based fruit wines. This cider combines the fragrance and piquancy of blackcurrants (a high-acid fruit) with a softer sweet apple base. It’s lightly effervescent, with pure currant flavour, tart acidity, and bitterness. Serve cold with smoked meat or poultry. www.archibaldswinery.com
Archibald’s Ida Red Oak-Aged
$12.95 • Bowmanville, Ontario • 86 points
It’s not far-fetched to age apple cider in oak. Apple is the most common descriptor for chardonnay, and oak aging can complement its essence terrifically. In this bone-dry edition, the wood does take the upper hand aromatically, although fresh and zesty, but not too tart, apple flavour and acidity come through on the dry finish. Thinking about roast pork here. www.archibaldswinery.com
SWEET DESSERT STYLES
Archibald’s Spiced Winter Apple
$18.95 • Bowmanville, Ontario • 92 points
A perennial medallist at the Canadian Wine Awards, this 100 percent apple wine is seamlessly infused with a “secret blend” of spices (no oak aging, however) that serve to render aromas of Mom’s apple crisp right out of the oven. It is sweet, of course, with elegant, creamy texture and finely inlaid acidity. Consider it dessert unto itself or pour it over a rich French vanilla ice cream. 375 mL. www.archibaldswinery.com
Domaine Pinnacle Ice Cider
$29.95 • Quebec • 92 points
From a pristine orchard just metres from the U.S. border in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, Domaine Pinnacle is making a name for itself internationally, exporting Quebec’s frozen-apple nectar around the world. Brilliant gold amber colour, it is a thick, sweet apple and caramel potion with brilliant offsetting acidity. Awesome with apple pie and aged cheddar. 375 mL. LCBO 94094.
Prince Edward County Ice Cider
$29.95 • Prince Edward County, Ontario • 90 points
This amber elixir is made from Russet, Ida Red, and Northern Spy apples — varieties that do not fall when ripe but hang on through freezing temperatures. The aroma blasts very ripe apple-apricot-honeyed fruit. The key to its success is excellent piquant acidity to balance the thick texture and rich, sweet taste. Excellent length. Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Why not try this with pumpkin pie. 375 mL. www.countycider.com