Cider and wine should go hand in hand, to elevate the mental and physical systems of the American people.
-Mr. Carl Benson | New York Times | January 16, 1864
So I was doing research for this blog post, and came across this gem in the New York Times Digital Print Archive. Needless to say, since no one has written about cider vs wine in the last 155 years, I thought it might be useful to update the topic with some new information.
Just kidding, people have been writing about cider vs wine plenty in the internet age, but it certainly is an interesting topic, one worth exploring a little deeper here.
Let’s start here at the beginning. Simply put, Cider is “an alcoholic beverage made from fermented juice of apples.” Meanwhile, wine is “an alcoholic beverage made from fermented juice of grapes.”
Okay, so we all knew that. But, what is the difference between an alcoholic beverage made of apples, and an alcoholic beverage made of grapes?
One big factor is sugar content. The way any alcoholic beverage is made starts with sugar (and yeast). When sugar and yeast (natural sugars and wild yeast when it comes to natural wine) combine, you get a process called fermentation. Yeast is a living thing, and it effectively eats the sugars, breaking them down and thus, alcohol is created!
Now that we know how alcohol is created, let’s get back to apples and grapes. Apples inherently have less sugar than grapes, averaging around 10g when compared to 16g for grapes. There's a lot of variation in this, as actual sugar content will vary by fruit variety, harvest time (late-harvest wines are usually much sweeter), and more. More sugar = more alcohol, which is why you'll usually find a higher alcohol content in wine vs cider.
One thing that I've always found fascinating about cider is the sheer variety of styles in which you can make cider. For pure cider lovers, you have your "standard" style of cider, made with just apples and canned. For craft beer lovers, you have dry-hopped cider. For wine lovers, you've got lees aged ciders produced via the ancestral method.
Hops themselves are worth another post entirely. You have dozens, if not hundreds of different types of hops grown all over the world providing different flavor profiles - fruit-forward notes, bitterness, and much more.
Dry hopping cider is pretty similar to hopping beer, and gives it a similar texture, profile, and taste to a beer. After fermentation you typically add the hops, give it a few more weeks, and voila! That hoppy taste you love is now infused in your cider. Some of our favorite hopped ciders can be found at Far From the Tree in Salem, MA!
That's right, you can age cider just like wine!
We had a dinner in Vermont courtesy of La Garagista, Stitchdown Farm, Big Picture Farm, and a few others where they served an absolutely outstanding aged cider. It had all the complexity you'd expect from an aged wine - tannins, mouthfeel, aromatics, and more. On aged ciders, Diedre Heeken states:
We had tasted our friend’s cider, his father and his grandfather’s on occasion, and we thought – ‘this is the cider we dream of making.’ Kermit taught us that old farmhouse cider in Vermont doesn’t get interesting until its third year in barrel, and doesn’t get good until six years. He taught us to add each new vintage to a portion of the last, essentially creating a mother that tells the story not only of each vintage, but of the long lineage created from year to year.
Aging a cider is certainly more wine-like than the aforementioned hopped cider, which more closely resembles it's malty cousin, beer.
Co-fermentation is when you ferment two or more different varietals, fruits, etc. together to make an alcoholic drink that's a blend of multiple different things. Some of our favorite wine producers do it with grapes. For example, Le Coupe Soif is a co-fermentation of Grenache and Carignan.
Many fantastic ciders are co-fermented in some way with grapes to get a wonderful combination of tannin, color, and flavor. Going back to La Garagista, they released a cider called Stolen Roses that's fermented on red grape skins, a classic example of mixing apples and grapes!
Another one of our favorite cider/wine/fruit fermenters is FRUKTSTEREO, in Sweden. While not known for its grape growing, the folks over at FRUKTSTEREO are doing some fantastic work with apple cider, fruit wine, co-fermentation, and more.
Officially, cider is classified by the TTB as wine. The TTB has different designations for wine, beer, and spirits, so this is an important designation!
THE BOTTOM LINE
At the end of the day, cider is a type of fruit wine. In a sense, all cider is wine, but not all wine is cider. It's classified as a wine by the TTB, and shares many similarities to wine in the fermentation processes.
And hey, since it's classified as wine by the TTB we aren't going to rule out putting one in the wine club! After all, like Mr. Carl Benson said in 1864, they should really go hand in hand!