I’ve neglected doing much writing about wine because I know very little about the subject. And when I do plunge into the unknown depths of varietals and oak-aging, I find myself completely overwhelmed. Which is why I thought I’d be able to manage to sound like I knew what I was talking about by sticking to fruit wine.
But not so fast, because when it comes to apples, the definitions get as confusing as with grapes, and sent my Google-fu into overdrive.
The product in question is Neige, an “ice cider” from La Face Cachée de la Pomme in Hemmingford Quebec. Technically speaking, any product made with apples is considered a cider. What we know as hard or alcoholic cider tends to be light, slightly sweet, but not overly so, and effervescent; usually from natural carbonation (although some ciders have carbonation added). Through further fermentation of the cider and the addition of sugar, yeast, pectin and acid, cider can become a more viscous and sweet dessert wine.
Significantly different, the process for making apple ice wine is to freeze the apples. This may be done via cryoextraction, where the apples, as is the case with grapes for regular ice wine, are left on the trees to freeze during the winter, then picked when the temperature reaches –8 C or lower, and pressed to extract the intensely sweet juice. Cryoconcentration is more common, and is the process used for Neige, where apples are picked in the fall and left in storage. In late December, the apples are pressed and the freshly extracted juice is left outside until the water in the juice freezes and separates from the sugar, which is gravity-harvested.
So what’s the difference between an apple ice wine and an ice cider? Only the designation that Quebec has applied for from a parliamentary committee. If the designation is passed, apple ice wine made in Quebec will be called “ice cider”, whereas wineries in other parts of the country, such at Sunnybrook Farm in Ontario, will only be able to refer to their product as apple ice wine.
Tastewise, the Neige ice cider falls somewhere in between a cider and an apple dessert wine. It’s got a clean flavour of apples with a vanilla finish, but is lighter than a dessert wine, with the slightest hint of something that isn’t quite carbonation, but comes off as vaguely fizzy.
It’s racked up a hefty list of awards, and is said to be one of the best products of its kind. Cider connoisseurs consider themselves lucky to nab a bottle. I’m less enthralled with it, probably due to the fizzy characteristic, since I’m not a fan of cider in general, although apple dessert wine always has a place in my heart and my glass. For me, it doesn’t live up to the Pomme D’or apple wine from Grand Pre Winery in Nova Scotia, and isn’t as warming and homey as the Spiced Apple wine from Rush Creek Wines. But it’s definitely an elegant twist on both traditional cider and the delight of ice wine, although it’s hard to find here in Ontario. Not worth a trip to Quebec specifically to track it down, but I’d grab some to try if I was going to be there anyway.