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  • Writer's pictureJohn Hoyos

Creamy Cold Stone

The cool minerality of the Granite State takes on the hot Paso Robles region in this Cider vs. Wine Discussion. When I first explained my ideas about Cider Like Wine, Andrea Billick confessed an enthusiastic interest. In addition to being the wine buyer at Super Buy Rite, West Deptford, NJ for several years, Andrea has spent some time living in France. As such, she is more than familiar with the rich heritage that cider offers. She also has a very developed, very keen wine palate. Andrea was kind enough to invite me over to her place on a recent Sunday afternoon. She broke out some amazing cheeses and a dry-aged steak to pair with our cider and wine (part two of this feature). In this part of the feature, we’re just going to focus on the tasting profiles of two really interesting beverages: Farnum Hill Extra Dry Still Cider* and Ancient Peaks 2015 Renegade Wine. Since both are blended to bring forth specific qualities of the fruit, I thought they would be good to compare and contrast both on their own and with food.

Lebanon, NH lies roughly 75 miles southeast of Lake Champlain right near where US 89 and US 91 intersect. There’s a whole host of Vermont mountains between the two from Mount Ellen to Killington Peak. However, Lake Champlain and the resultant Champlain Valley AVA are the closest things to a defined growing region for Poverty Lane Orchards. Helmed by owner Steve Wood, they’ve been growing inedible cider apples in an unpredictable climate for more than 30 years.


This is because the terroir of where the apple is grown has an effect on the cider produced.


In addition to using this crop to create Farnum Hill Ciders, many of these apples (and the resultant pressed juice) are sold to cidermakers from a wide swath to provide substance to ciders because these types of apples just aren’t grown in too many places - yet. That is changing, but it takes years to get a functional crop and additional time to learn how to incorporate that particular homegrown fermented juice into the existing cider. This is because the terroir of where the apple is grown has an effect on the cider produced. Even more challenging is that this effect will vary from place to place and season to season. There is no one right answer.

In tasting Farnum Hill Extra Dry Still (XDS), you can get a sense of place. The color is golden, shading towards pineapple yellow. Andrea remarked how this color would signal oak aging in a wine and I was under the impression that this didn’t spend time in oak. However, I reached out to cidermaker Nicole Leibon at Farnum Hill. This batch of XDS actually contains about 50% oak fermented cider, but the barrels they’re using are twenty years old and extremely neutral. The barrels don’t add any color; instead it’s the bittersweet apple varieties that are providing those golden hues. These varieties tend to “brown pretty rapidly at pressing” per Nicole.

Andrea and I both remarked how much depth there was in the nose. The primary aromas we discovered were pineapple, granite, earthiness, salinity and chalk. Subsequent approaches brought forth fainter notes of malic acid, cardamom, apple peel, citrus, ginger and lanolin/beeswax. Andrea is originally from Pennsylvania Dutch country and noted that the apples smelled different than the apples she grew up with; chalk up another argument for terroir. We both felt like we could get lost in the nose of this cider for days.

The palate of Extra Dry Still has this incredible creamy texture. Andrea pointed out that the creaminess scaled somewhere between a rich sake and an oaked chardonnay. The flavors followed the primary aromas, but honeydew, citrus and salinity stood out more. The finish was long and lingering with acidity, minerality and salinity defining the tannins.

The wine selected for this discussion was from Ancient Peaks Winery in the Paso Robles region of California. Their 2015 Renegade is a blend of Syrah (55%), Zinfandel (27%), Petit Syrah (13%) and Petit Verdot (5%). I was looking for a California red blend that was not too Cabernet Sauvignon or Zinfandel forward, as these grapes tend to be more aggressive on the palate. Paso Robles is a (temperature) hot region for growing grapes and the majority of these grapes are from the southernmost vineyard in the region, Margarita Vineyard.

In the glass, the bright purple of the wine goes right to the rim. Andrea called it a healthy, youthful wine by color. The aroma showed these great primary fruits, dry plum, cherry liqueur, barnyard, vanilla and caramel from the oak, mushroom and forest floor. Andrea called the forest floor brambly. I called it moss or “hobbits-running-from-dark-lords” forest floor.

The palate of Renegade displayed the fruits well with obvious tones of black pepper and spice. Andrea noted a bloodiness with soft tannins and nice acid. She also pointed out that the beauty of this wine is in the fruit, so this wine would be best to drink now; these fruits will fade with time in the bottle. The finish was dry and lingering with dusty spice, mushroom and earthiness most apparent.

After tasting Renegade, we went back to Extra Dry Still to compare the tannic structure of both beverages. This is where there exists a great difference between the two. The cider’s tannins are more tea and green apple driven. The wine on the other hand exhibits earthy and subtle spice tannins.

While both Extra Dry Still and Renegade presented very well, we felt that Farnum Hill’s cider contained a lot more depth and complexity. This is not a negative against Ancient Peaks; Andrea noted that she was pleasantly surprised as she normally does not prefer wines from this region. Rather, it’s a compliment to the strong composition of Extra Dry Still and the power of blending a dozen or so different locally grown cider apples.

You can read more about Renegade in the link above, but I’m reposting the winemaker’s notes here for discussion.

The winemaking vision of Renegade is to craft a rich, boldly flavored wine with structure and finesse. After fermentation, the individual lots were aged for 16 months in a combination of French (60%) and American oak (40%) barrels, including a total of 20 percent new oak. A majority of the Syrah was aged in barrels with medium-plus toasting to accentuate the varietal’s meaty, smoky nuances. In the final blend, Syrah sets the tone with deep black fruit and savory nuances. The Petit Verdot intensifies overall color and concentration, while the Zinfandel fosters a juicy mid-palate. Lastly, the Petite Sirah completes the blend with a vivid sense of firmness on the finish.

Having read this, I definitely feel the winemaker achieved what they set out to do with this wine. The savory, meaty qualities of the wine make it a real good food complement and this will bear out in our part two discussion when we discuss the effects of food with these two great beverages.


* - Farnum Hill's web site is down, so this links to their Facebook page

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