Today, a friend of mine did me the favor of taking me to a cider tasting at one of the area's best sidrerías, Sagardotegi Zapiain. It was quite a different experience than my first...instead of a late night locura, it was a civilized and structured tasting of ciders in their various stages of fermentation, led by the head of quality control, Egoitz Zapiain.
It was enlightening, to say the least. We started with a presentation on the tasting of cider. It has a lot in common with wine tastings..we even got to discussing tannins. You can tell the tannin level in cider, because it gets darker and darker yellow the more tannins it has. Cider, if you don't know, is made from apples. And one of the key elements that determines the taste of a cider is WHEN the apples were picked. An unripe, immature apple will yield a less alcoholic, more vegetal drink, while an apple allowed to ripen fully can make a cider that is reminiscent of fruit compote more than greens. Egoitz knew his stuff, managing to cram a lifetime of learning into about an hour-long presentation.
At Zapiaian, Egoitz himself is often the txotxero, opening the barrels with particular attention to order of drinking. He says it is imperative that you start the night with a lighter cider, which is what we also started our tasting with. The first cider was soft, without a clear smell, and almost as drinkable as water. He emphasized the delicacy of cider tasting, noting how the differences in light, temperature and even ambience can affect the perception of a cider. Egoitz led us through several more barrels, and the change from the first to the fifth to the final ciders (which would be ready for bottling in a week) was appreciable.
Zapiain is very focused on the export of their cider, and Egoitz in particular is insistent that every bottle be of the same quality and recognizable as a Zapiain cider. This is more difficult than it sounds, because every night that a barrel is opened for a txotx, the integrity of the cider is compromised by the oxygen allowed in the barrels. This has to be one of the reasons Egoitz maintains such a hands-on role, trying to dispense the different ciders equally each night to preserve them. Savvy and committed to making a quality product. Almost as refreshing as the cider itself.