Pioneer Pippin, a new Governor’s Cup for Cider and some words on our industry
Courtesy of Mark Grimaldi, owner+founder
The Cellar d’Or Wine and Cider Shop, Ithaca NY
from his August 16,2018 e-newsletter discussion of the first New York Wine Classic to include a Governor’s Cup for Cider
Last week, I was invited to be a judge for New York State's premier wine competition, The Governor's Cup from The NY Wine Classic, where hundreds of wineries submit close to 1000 wines for judging. This year, they added cider to the competition, which myself and cider guru Dan Pucci (formerly of the cider bar Wassail in NYC) were responsible for judging. I've never really cared much for what it meant for wineries to be given these bronze, silver, and gold medals in the past. Sure, it means something, and garnering the best of anything in NYS deserves praise. But, you can literally go to some of the worst wineries in NYS and see dozens and dozens of medals adorning empty wine bottles along their walls, so I never really took it seriously. This year though, the organization had done some major reorganizing and brought in fresh faces to not only run the NY Wine organization, but the judges were all fresh faces as well. I sat amongst all types of serious wine people, from all different parts of the business--from Masters of WIne, Certified Somms, wine buyers, wine writers, winemakers, consultants--to say that these were serious judges with serious palates would be an understatement. A far cry from what I had heard about the old guard of judges. I didn't know I would be also judging ciders in addition to wine until after I sat down with my group. I was beyond excited that they were letting me judge the ciders, and looking back, they had made a good decision by doing that, being that I have tasted hundreds and hundreds of ciders here since The Cellar d'Or's inception five years ago, I would be able to give a better go at it than most people there since not many have had access or devoted as much time to cider as we have here.
Cider Coming Into Its Own
There were 8 flights of ciders, 71 ciders in total. The range was broad, but they had it broken down into 3 categories--"heritage", "modern". and "Specialty". Obviously, heritage was going to be the more serious ciders, made mostly from heirloom, wild, or heritage apples, without any other fruits or flavorings. When we got into modern and specialty ciders we saw a lot hopped, fruited, overly sweet, barrel aged, and lots of ciders that were delicious but made for the mass market. There were serious ciders in there too--Pommeaus, ice ciders, high-quality barrel aged and fruited ciders for sure. We gave some golds and some double golds out to some of them. But going back to the Heritage ciders, it was clear that this is where the most serious and complex ciders were.
The final round of judging came down to the best from each category that we had all unanimously decided to push through to the Governor's Cup final. It was hard to pick the winner of the Heritage round, and it came down to almost a toss-up between two, but in the end, we thought that Kite & String's Pioneer Pippin was the best cider entered into the competition, followed very closely by Black Diamond's "Hickster". We only sent two ciders through to the cup round from the "best of modern" flight, which was Angry Orchard's Baldwin and Meral House's Oro d'Oro--both of these ciders were excellent!
Notes on our (K&S) Pioneer Pippin
Today, I want to focus on the Pioneer Pippin from Kite & String. You may know them from their organic farm, known as Good Life Farm, where they farm organically, plow by draft horse, and ethically raise animals and the most amazing fruits and vegetables. Or you may know them from their local cider-only tasting room named The Finger Lakes Cider house, that is the default tasting room for their own ciders, as well as Eve's Cidery, Redbyrd Cider, and Black Diamond Farm. The Pioneer Pippin is an exquisite cider, and one of the reasons it won best cider was it's sheer beauty. The aromatics alone were something more associated with a white wine, or some sort of flower-infused tincture, tinged with herbs, yellow tropical fruits, and even a hint of spice. None of the other ciders had these aromas, and in my years of tasting cider, not many have smelled as beautiful as this one ( and when they do, they are from the Finger Lakes!). While many heirloom apple based ciders boast a wild, rough, edgy, funky side--with many cidermakers desiring to have a rustic side to their ciders, Kite & String boasted a clean. pure, pretty side of cider. On the palate, it has a ripeness, with more yellow fruits coming through, but the magic of this cider, besides for the aromas, are its racy acidity and minerality and how it interplays with the slight bit of residual sugar (it's just a hair bone dry) it has. I love a slight residual sugar when there is high acid, it gives you that mouthwatering sweet-tart sensation, and I really only pick that up to this degree in good German Feinherb Riesling. The bubbles are also superb, as this is a hand-disgorged, Champagne method cider.
If you're a cider lover, or a wine lover who just hasn't found cider that interesting--this may be the one to try. The ciders from our region here in the finger lakes, are proving to be some of the most exciting in the world.