We are doing a bit of virtual travel to Asturias, which is in Northern Spain on the Cantabrian Sea, tucked in between Cantabria and Galicia.
This is part of Green Spain so exiting the tunnel that brings you north from Madrid plunges you into a sea of green pine trees, which lead to rocky cliffs and the tumultuous Cantabrian sea. (pretty magical, right?)
This month the World Wine Travel Group is pivoting a bit and exploring hard cider or sidra from Spain. Led by Cam of Culinary Adventures with Camilla we are being creative as sometimes Spanish Sidra can be difficult to find, so you may find some of my Colleagues’ discussing and comparing other hard ciders from around the world. You can read Cam’s invitation post here.
We will be gathering on Saturday, July 24th on Twitter at 8 am Pacific Time to discuss the ciders we tasted and potentially the pairings we settled on. You can join us! Just hop on Twitter at the appointed time and use and follow the hashtag #WorldWineTravel!
You will find a list with links to my Colleagues’ pieces below!
Going into this I did not have a great knowledge of hard cider, other than a fascinating session in the Yakima Valley with Marcus Roberts of Tieton Cider Works. You can read about that here!
Sidra from Asturias
This is the land of Sidra or hard cider, made from apples. Cider making here is thought to date back to 60BC (source).
Apples are pressed and then ferment in large chestnut barrels for at least 5 months.
These ciders are low in alcohol and are strong, bitter, and acidic. The Council of Asturian Sidra mentions the benefits, including improving imagination and empathy. Many exalt its health benefits and it does indeed contain vitamin A.
They are served in cider bars called a “Chigre” in Asturias or “Sidreria” in the rest of Spain. There are cider houses that will also serve directly from the barrels called “Llagares”. (source)
The culture and rules of drinking Sidra
They are proud of their cider here, it has a deep culture with lots of fascinating “rules”.
We did the Basque High Pour last month with our Txakoli from Basque Country. Here in Asturias, they take that up a notch. The ciders Sidra Naturel are typically flat, the foam and effervescence is added by the pour called “escanciar”. It is higher than the Basque High Pour!
The method is to stand with your feet hip-distance apart. Hold the glass (the glass is thin and about 5 inches tall and 3 to 3.5 inches in diameter) in your left hand low (next to your knee) and at an angle. Your right-hand holds the bottle at full extension. You pour allowing the sidra to hit the side of the glass causing it to froth and create bubbles. Here’s a link to see how it is done https://youtu.be/m6CCLB7dOJU
You only pour a small bit (2 fingers in scotch terms) and drink it in one sip, called a “culin”.
Mind you this glass is not your own. It is customary to share one glass among the group. So when you finish your sip of sidra, you leave a little bit in the glass. This way the next person can “throw” the remaining sidra out of the glass on the side that you sipped from to essentially clean the glass.
The person who pours may spill a bit at first then move the glass under the stream, even the pros do that, so don’t try this on a rug! Then the glass is handed to a guest, the pourer always drinks last.
Sidra is sold by the bottle, not by the glass, and in restaurants, they will often pour for you, so don’t reach for the bottle to refill, unless, they have left a spout or a cut cork for pouring in the bottle. That would indicate that they were not coming back and you were on your own!
Our Cider came from Bodegas Mayador, who have been making sidras since 1939. The orchards are close to the coast near the small town of Villaviciosa. They ferment in traditional chestnut barrels then mature for 14 months in these very large barrels.
The company was founded by Manuel Busto, when he retired at 80 (well, he didn’t retire really, he just focused on planting apple trees), his youngest daughter Consuelo Busto Alonso, took over the running of the company. One of few women in this field, she was a pioneer, traveling to bring her sidra to more markets around the world. They now export to almost 50 countries across the globe.
You might notice that Mayador is not the family name. It comes from the Spanish term “Mayo” which is the name for the person who crushes the apples for fermenting.
Cam worked with Winesellers Ltd who offered samples for this tasting. (Thanks Cam and Thanks Winesellers Ltd!)
These were media samples, but rest assured all opinions are our own.
Mayador Sidra Natural 2017
This is a dry cider. Descriptions from Winesellers Ltd, that I read before opening this included: cloudy, golden yellow, no head, blossoms, lime, lemon zest, grapefruit, ferns, grass. Sour with a thin body. They say to match with Valdeon or Cabrales blue cheeses $7 SRP, 6% abv
The Sidra Natural was funky, tart, dry, sour, and tasty. I understand how the bit of aeration makes it much more lively on your palate. If you had a whole glass of this that didn’t have the aeration, it would be a little tougher to drink.
Sidra Asturiana Mayador limited production Sidra Espumante 2017
This sidra is medium-dry, so a bit sweeter and it is sparkling. (coppery yellow, clear. Aromas of heavy apple, tart apple, apple skin, and oaky scents. They suggest pairing with salt cod in tortillas, steak, and Spanish blue cheese. SRP $8 5% abv
The Espumante was sparkling and sweeter, still with that funk on the nose, but much more approachable, if you are not used to hard cider.
Both of these sidras had a bit of fermented funkiness when you stuck your nose in the glass, but it was not unpleasant.
What to pair with Sidra?
The Sidra is often accompanied by food, things like Tortilla (omelet), fried cod, or other fish, chorizo cooked with cider, or grilled meat. Or as Mayador mentions, with Valdéon or Cabrales blue cheeses.
Dessert is cheese with nuts and quince jelly.
For our pairing, I wanted to go for bar-style food. I picked up a Valdéon cheese from Cured and Whey and found some chorizo, Marcona almonds, and Membrillo, which is the Spanish name for quince paste. We added some manchego cheese and sliced apple.
A riff on Tostada con Tomate, Aceite y jamón
I had found a recipe for a “Tostada con Tomate, Aceite y jamón” which is basically, toasted bread with garlic, olive oil, crushed tomato, and ham. This seemed in the spirit of grilled cheese, I mean everything is better with cheese right? So we riffed on the theme.
I toasted sourdough slices in the broiler with a little olive oil, rubbed them with garlic, spread a bit of crushed tomatoes on that, topped with prosciutto (I looked everywhere and could not find Iberico or serrano ham!), a bit of manchego and sliced apple, topped with another piece of bread and put it in a rod iron skillet with butter and olive oil to melt together. Well…manchego did not have the ooey gooeyness I was craving, so on the 2nd sandwich, I tossed in a bit of brie (sorry, I couldn’t help myself).
The Espumante went best with the brie and apple in the sandwich. And both were delicious with the Valdéon blue cheese. But quite honestly nothing paired poorly and this is the perfect kind of food to munch while you chat and sip Sidra with friends.
I will admit, I chickened out of doing the high pour. Instead, we used the trick of the cut cork to add the aeration to the Sidra Natural. I wonder if one of those wine aerators would work too?
Wineseller’s Ltd generously sent two other ciders one from Normandy France and another from Herefordshire England that we look forward to sharing with you in the future. I would do a side by side, but these ciders really should be enjoyed with a proper pairing, so a plowman’s lunch for the British cider and sausage and roasted root vegetables for the Dufresne from Normandy. You will have to watch for that coming up soon!
In the meantime let me offer you a couple of last photos of this stunning region.
The World Wine Travel group is traveling virtually to Spain this year and you can join us every 4th Saturday of the month as we virtually visit a new region. Below you will find the pieces by my Colleagues on the stories, ciders, and pairings they discovered this month.
- A BBQ Party Featuring Spanish and French Ciders by Chinese Food & Wine Pairings
- A Crash Course in Hard Ciders by Somm’s Table
- Anna’s Ciders and Pier City Ciders by Wine Predator … Gwendolyn Alley
- Bodegas Mayador – A Taste of Asturias Cider by ENOFYLZ Wine Blog
- Cider Glazed Rotisserie Chicken and a Sampling of Hard Ciders by A Day in the Life on the Farm
- Divide and Cider: Conquering Spanish Sidra with Mire by Asian Test Kitchen
- Falling In Love With Cider by Avvinare
- I am Cider Curious by Food Wine Click!
- One glass, Many ciders by Children of the Grape
- Pollo Con Ajoy y Limon and Spanish Hard Ciders by Our Good Life
- Put This Basque Beverage on Your Drink List! by Savor the Harvest
- Traditional Spanish Sidra, a Tipsy Trickster, & Tanuki Cider by Culinary Adventures with Camilla
Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.
When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.
More on Spain from Crushed Grape Chronicles
- Pintxos and Txakoli – a celebration of Basque Country
- Exploring the Kingdom of Aragon and its wines
- Rueda and Verdejo just keep rolling with the #1 white wine in Spain!
- Priorat DOQ in Spain’s Cataluna region and Franck Massard’s 2015 “Humilitat”
- Viura – There is more to Rioja than Tempranillo
- Cava: Traditional Method Sparkling Wine from Spain
- Albarino, Portico da Rio a crisp zesty white wine from Spain!
- Priorat: Medieval Monks, Modern Rebirth and Outstanding Wine from Spain
- Herederos del Marques de Riscal Reserva Rioja 2014 – Day 11 of the 12 Days of Wine 2020
What gorgeous photos. Makes you want to book a flight and go visit for sure. Love that you did a tapas type pairing with your ciders.
I know, right? When I came across those photos, I will admit that this region jumped to the top of my Spanish Travel Bucketlist!
Fantastic post, as always, Robin! I love the cork hack…I didn’t have guts to do the high pour either.
A great post Robin. Agreed that the traditions around Sidra Asturias are fascinating. It reminds me of when we visited Rioja and Basque country and we saw napkins all over the floor. Our first thought was the place was messy, but it turns out it’s tradition to throw your napkins on the floor!
So many fascinating traditions! I’m looking forward to learning about Valdepenas from my friend who just visited the region! Windmills and more Windmills…So much fascinating history.
That cork hack is genius! I think we all need to practice that high-pour. Thanks for joining the cider party today, Robin.
I learned it online! There was a video. So much easier than trying to do the high pour!
So much to take in with this article! First…pretty magical indeed. We love Northern Spain but have yet to make it to this particular part. As for the pour, we also experienced Txakoli pours in San Sebastian and can’t imagine having to attempt it higher (though willing to give it a shot wearing a raincoat ;)!
A raincoat sounds like the perfect idea! Lynn shared some information on txotx in the Basque country where you have to catch the cider in your glass as it shoots from the barrel! So many fascinating traditions. They do have a thing with pouring beverages in this part of Spain, don’t they!?
So fascinating! I never had any cider when we were travelling through Spain in 2011 and now I wish I did. I love dry cider so I think this would be up my alley with a bit of Spanish omelette or Pan Con Tomate perhaps
My grilled cheese started out as a Pan Con Tomate…then, well…cheese! It was great with the Espumante. The Sidra Natural really is meant to be enjoyed a “splash” at a time, with the aeration, burning off the less enchanting notes and highlighting the delicious notes in the ciders. I hope you can find this and give it a try!
The trick of the cut cork, a new one for me and can’t wait to try it. I’ve never had more than three or four culins 😉 before I had to reach for more food with the natural types. I’m going to grab your mixed cheese plate when you aren’t looking!
I think that sidra is meant to pair with food. At least for me and it was really good with the Valdeon! I saw in a post somewhere a gadget that plugs in like a cork, but has the holes for aeration, but cutting the cork ourselves was simple enough. I think you still have to pour higher than usual, but it kept my shoes from getting wet!
Ooh I like that description of “fermented funkiness” along with the tidbit that it can improve imagination and empathy??? I suppose that matches the uniqueness of the flavor of these wines. Wonderful and informative post as always!
Thanks Deanna! I love the unique culture and traditions developed around these beverages!
I have on bottle from Mayador left and I think you’ve inspired me to try my poron skills on it. Thanks for going into the details. Your cheese and charcuterie board also looks amazing!
A delayed Thank You, Nicole! If you try the poron, I hope you do a little video to show us those skills!