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Plenty of room in Niagara for both wine and cider, as Tas Fraser discovers

By Tas Fraser

When one thinks of the Niagara region — aside from the Falls — one of the first thoughts is ‘oh, that’s wine country.’ If this is what comes to mind for you, you wouldn’t be wrong! However, there are some hidden gems in this area that I know and love: ciders.

Fun Fact: Cider and wine share a similar process for fermentation, however, wine is often fermented longer resulting in higher alcohol content (ciders average 3-8% while wines are 9-12%). Another obvious difference is the type of fruit being fermented (apples vs. grapes).

Ontario cider
Tas Fraser.

I have posted in the past about Small Talk Vineyards (home of Shiny Apple Cider) but there are also ciders at other wineries in the Niagara area, as well. Today I will be sharing some thoughts about the following ciders: Old Tun Cider, Redstone Sparkling Cider and Tawse Sparkling Carbonated Cider. I will also be telling you about three wines: Old Tun Muscat, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc, all VQA Ontario. (Want to learn more about VQA wines? Go here.

Old Tun Cider

I visited Ridgepoint Winery in Vineland, where I had my first taste of Old Tun at the beginning of the pandemic in March. It was the last outing I actually had before lockdown. I had no idea I’d be able to find cider to try, so of course I was thrilled. The staff there was so kind, and helped me set up the perfect photo location. I was able to try the Old Tun Cider ($7 for one 500 mL bottle or 4 for $20) and Old Tun Russet Cider ($16 a bottle). Old Tun is a small, virtual beverage company based in Niagara and founded by Ramsey Khairallah to create a broad range of interesting, small batch products.

The cider you can see here in the photo is their Russet Cider. The first time I went I was able to try their original, which is a blend of different apples and conditioned with honey. However, while those ingredients sound sweet, it is dry! The russet on the other hand is also dry but has light notes of vanilla and spice surrounding the apple. This cider was barrel fermented and aged for around a year.

Fun Fact: Russet apples are usually a greenish/yellowish brown colour. Their flavour can be described as aromatic, sweet and nutty. They don’t exactly look the most appealing, however, they’re popular in the UK and add a unique flavour to ciders.

To give you an idea of the taste of these two ciders, I’d describe them as a traditional (but slightly sweetened) apple cider. It has a wonderful crisp, clean apple taste. If you are trying to introduce others to the world of cider, I’d definitely recommend this as a starter, especially if your guests enjoy dry drinks.

Old Tun Wine Trio

Now we move on to the wines. I don’t usually drink wine, but I have done my fair share of wine tasting, mostly in the Niagara region. The wines I usually gravitate to are Sauvignon Blanc, rosé, Rieslings or an occasional white blend. Reds are a bit too heavy for me, while the oaky taste of Chardonnay is not my forte (this goes for oaky ciders, too). The three sparkling wines by Old Tun, though, were all great for different reasons; they also helped me step out of my comfort zone.

Muscat ($12) — The muscat sparkling wine was light and had both citrus and floral tastes. This combination makes this wine perfect for summer or late spring. One thing about Muscat grapes is they have a pronounced floral aroma/flavour, which can sometimes be off putting if you don’t like that style. However, I found this overall to be a perfectly balanced dry wine and the aromatics likeable. The carbonation also helps give this a light airy consistency.

Sauvignon Blanc ($12) — I absolutely love mostly everything about Sauvignon Blanc and I was not disappointed with this sparkling wine. It’s more bright compared to the Muscat and has a zestier, livelier taste. You get hints of citrus fruits in this, making it also more acidic. I loved the rich taste of this one and would recommend it year round. Another fun fact was that this was an unfiltered wine, so you get a bit of residue from the fermentation.

Pinot Noir Rose ($12) — Now, here I am faced with a foe (or a friend?). The verdict is friend. I was shocked when I tasted this and that it was my favourite of the three. Also unfiltered, this Pinot Noir rosé was packed with rich flavours. You can taste notes of berry and kiwi combined with perfect acidity. All three of these are on the drier side, but were carefully crafted to make your palate fall in love.

These wines/ciders can all be purchased here.

Redstone Sparkling Cider
and Tawse Sparkling Cider

I was able to connect with sales manager Daniel Lafleur of Tawse Estate Winery who was gracious enough to send samples of both of these ciders. I have visited the homes of these ciders many times for wine tastings, so it was an honour to be able to try their ciders as well. Redstone Winery is located in Beamsville and it is a beautiful 38-acre property with the main building crafted from clay soil and stones. You can do tastings, purchase wine and even get delicious food there in the restaurant. I popped by in the summer for a wine tasting with my parents. The cider comes in at 5.5% ABV and is apple forward and carbonated. It also smells sweet but I can tell you, you will be confused at the first sip. The cider actually gets sweeter the more you sip on it and you don’t taste it right away! There are earthy tangy notes to this cider and I liked it best on ice. However, if you put it on ice, the carbonation will be significantly reduced.

The Tawse cider has lower alcohol and comes in at it at 5% ABV. It is more of a semi-dry cider and is lightly sweet with a crisp, fresh apple flavour. It is made from different varieties of Ontario apples and also tastes divine on ice. I enjoyed this in the summer relaxing in the backyard. The carbonated nature of this one also makes it very tasty in the morning or for brunch. Now, I know what you’re thinking … morning!? Yes, I enjoy a nice cider cocktail every now and again, and if you mix this with orange juice you have a cider-mosa! Tawse is located in Vineland (about a 3-minute drive from sister winery Redstone). Both Tawse and Redstone are family owned organic wineries, founded by Moray Tawse.

Fun Fact: Moray Tawse named blocks of his vineyard after his three children: David, Carly and Robyn. Tawse currently farms 21 acres of vines and the winery was opened in 2005.

Both of these ciders can be found at the LCBO and if you’re up for the adventure, head out to the wineries themselves and support a local business.

Note: You can find Tas Fraser on Instagram @girlwithaciderreview and her bio can be found here.