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Berger: As ciders evolve, demand grows

From left, Devoto Orchards Gravenstein Dry, Crispin Natural Hard Apple Cider and Fin RIver Pear Cider. (Dan Berger / For The Press Democrat)

DAN BERGER,

Wine marketing people love to chat about the various demographic groups that drive wine sales throughout the United States. The current targets of most companies are millennial buyers.

Unlike the baby boomers who seemed so eager to buy upscale wine, or wines that looked upscale but were a shadow of what they were supposed to be, the millennial crowd loves wine in so many different formats that wineries are driven to distraction.

Millennial buyers are now showing great interest in wines that are rare and display characteristics that years ago might be considered odd, an obscure group of wines made from grape varieties few people had never heard of before.

A few years ago, moscato hit the wine market, sparkling wine made with Muscat grapes and made slightly to very sweet. For a couple of years it was all the rage. Fortunately the fad died.

At about the same time, a new trend was developing. Since colonial times, apple cider has been a favored home-brew because it was easy to make, low in alcohol, widely appealing and used apples that did not have to look pristine for the cider to taste good.

The cider culture is emerging, partly a result of interest shown by huge beer companies who explored cider as a profit center because it was inexpensive to produce. The real proof that this was a trend, and not a fad, came as a result of the explosion in micro-cideries in just about every area of the country, especially where apples are prolific.

Wine merchants throughout California are expanding their shelf space to accommodate more ciders, with a Santa Rosa wine shop buyer adding, “I never would have guessed it, but the millennial buyers are demanding we carry ciders from all kinds of places. And I’m finding that some of them are sold out before I can even get them.”

Tom Wark, publisher of the online Cider Journal, said some years ago these lower alcohol products were called hard cider, but today the term is generally avoided by many in the industry.

“Most cideries refer to them as craft ciders,” said Wark, likening them to craft beers.

Many tiny cideries are now making off-dry and totally dry versions of cider that take a bit of getting used to. Almost no cider is vintage-dated, and almost all are blended between different apple varieties.

And their flavors can be remarkably different from anything I tasted years ago. Most are overtly sweet and not very appealing. Some cider lovers say this is due to the use of apple concentrate, not fresh juice. Craft cideries swear by fresh apple juice.

Ciders of the Week

Crispin Natural Hard Apple Cider “The Saint” ($6, 22 oz.): This complex beverage offers a fascinating aroma that is faintly beer-like yet still floral. It has a moderately sweet entry. Fresh apple is evident on the palate, and the cider finishes rather crisp. Not very dry, but dry enough to serve with lighter foods. It’s truly tasty.

Finn River Pear ($9, 1.9 oz): Pear cider, known in the industry as Perry, is mostly made from apples with pear as a key component. Here the aroma shows both fruits, with an entry that is fairly dry, but with a broad-textured palate and an almost pithy note in the finish.

Devoto Orchards Gravenstein Dry ($13, 750 ml): The aroma has hints of Pinot Grigio and a floral note that leads to a fairly dry mid-palate. Screwcapped for freshness, it has a distinctive apple-y note in the mid-palate and would be a nice accompaniment for spicy curry dishes. Made in Graton.

Sonoma County resident Dan Berger publishes “Vintage Experiences,” a weekly wine newsletter. Write to him at winenut@gmail.com.