I was very excited to receive word one evening last week that I had been chosen as a Grape Debater for the first time. When I saw that it would be not wine, but rather cider that I would be reviewing, my excitement turned to giddiness! After all, ciders on wine.woot are exceptionally rare.
I'm a huge fan of cider, and have been for the past 10+ years. Over that time period, cider has become a much more popular beverage, and that has led to a far wider selection being available both in terms of brands and varieties. I generally prefer what I consider to be "craft" ciders from small to midsize ciderys. I tend to avoid the large "mass market" brands, while awarding bonus points for local ciders (just as I do for wines). I also prefer ciders that have at least a little bit of sweetness to them, versus those that tend to be more dry. Without enough sugar in there, I feel that the apple flavors sort of disappear.
When the nice lady from FedEx delivered the bottle, I eagerly tore open the box to reveal a bottle cradled in eco-friendly molded paperboard packaging. "'Gunga Din Cinnamon', that's a funny name!" I quipped as I gave the bottle's label a thorough reading before stashing it in the chill chest until later in the weekend.
Flash forward to Sunday evening. With our toddler asleep, my wife and I popped the cap off of the 22 ounce bottle and poured ourselves a couple of glasses. The label states that the cider "captures the true essence of fresh baked apple pie", so I was eager to taste how it compared to one of my all time favorites, which I often equate to drinking liquid apple pie.
Taking a good sniff of my glass, the apple smell was crisp and unmistakable. There was a hint of cinnamon as well in there, though not as strong as other spiced ciders I've had or what you might expect to smell after pulling a fresh apple pie out of the oven. St. Julian seemed content to let the apples do most of the work here, which was just fine by me.
The first sip went down very easily, and my wife immediately mentioned how smooth the cider was. That first taste confirmed my expectations that this cider was definitely about the apples first and foremost. That is something that I don't always feel that ciderys have the easiest time with. Most of my favorite varieties bring some other strong flavors to the party, be that in the form of other fruits, bourbon, spices, etc. Many times, the varieties that are more about the apples wind up feeling boring or uninspired to me. That was definitely not the case here! Maybe it's because the Gunga Din Cinnamon is focused on the Golden Delicious apple, whereas most if not all of the other ciders I've had are a undetermined blend of various apple varieties.
The Gunga Din Cinnamon had the perfect amount of sweetness for my taste: enough that it made the apple flavors lead the way, not so much that it tasted like it should be served as dessert. The cinnamon is in there too, but it almost acts as a flavor enhancer rather than a distinct flavor of its own. It was appropriately acidic, without leading my mouth to pucker or to feel the sourness in the corners of my mouth. The level of fizziness was appropriate. Maybe a little stronger than some other ciders, but far from overpowering. It sort of made the cider dance on my tongue, which was nice.
I've honestly never been one to pair my cider choices with specific foods, but a glance at St. Julian Winery's website mentioned several suggestions. Asian, Indian, and "Mexican flair" dishes were all recommended, as was shellfish. The website also mentioned that it paired well with cheese, so back to the chill chest I went for a slice of extra sharp New York cheddar. What an excellent combination that was! I found that the cheddar brought out a lot more of the apple pie flavors in the cider. Sipping the cider after a nibble of the sharp cheese brought out plenty of spicy flavors. It was almost like drinking an entirely different variety of cider. I could imagine how well the cider would play with the strong, spicy flavors of the suggested Asian, Indian, or Mexican cuisines.
Finally, I tried a few sips of it that had been warmed. While it wasn't bad, the apple forward flavors of the cider didn't lend themselves particularly well to that application. A variety that was more heavy on the cinnamon flavors here would probably work better warm. The Gunga Din Cinnamon seemed like it needed more spices here for it to work well as a warmed cider.
All in all, it was a very good cider. Probably not one that would become my go to, but rather one that I'd choose when I want some cider to sip after a long day or to pair with the aforementioned foods. Definitely in for 1.
Thanks for the chance to Grape Debate this one. I'll try to check in later today if others have questions.