While wine connoisseurs and beer aficionados seem to have a language all of their own when it comes to describing their drink of choice, cider is often left out of the conversation. However, those in the know understand that the gluten-free beverage makes a marvelous alcoholic option for the fall, when apple picking is in full swing and crisp nights calls for a seasonal drink.
Meet the Expert
Annie Bystryn is the founder of Cider in Love, a website highlighting smaller, craft hard cider makers across the country, particularly in New York, the Northwest, New England, and California.
For the uninitiated, cider is made from fermented apples and has a lower ABV than wine. This makes it easier to sip for longer periods of time, explains Annie Bystryn, founder of Cider in Love. "In many ways, fine cider offers the best of both—the nuance and complexity of wine plus the easy drinking qualities of beer," Bystryn says.
While your eyes may have glazed over cider options when scanning drink menus in search of your go-to wine or a signature cocktail, you may want to introduce the underrated beverage to your palate come fall (or any time of year, really). Bystryn notes that choosing a cider off a menu can be a tricky task, however. Most bars and restaurants list only its name, so you'll want to ask your server about its flavor profile before making a selection.
"Fine cider is like fine wine," Bystryn says, which is why we tapped Bystryn to recommend the best hard ciders for you based on your favorite kind of wine. Ahead, find out exactly what type of cider to try this fall, whether you love a velvety, dry merlot or a bright and springy riesling.
If You Like Sauvignon Blanc
Recommendation: Redbyrd's Wild Pippin
Description: Woody and savory
"Sauvignon blanc is tremendously popular with cider drinkers and vice versa because this wine is all about juicy acidity," says Bystryn. She suggests trying a sparkling cider called Wild Pippin if this is your favorite type of wine. Expect to taste white pepper, lemongrass, and lime.
While Wild Pippin may be more difficult to find or no longer in production as of 2020, you might take to similar flavor profiles like Redbyrd's Workman Dry cider (it's bright and juicy, like sauvignon blanc) or their Cloudsplitter, a still cider described as fruity and earthy, with smoky bittersweet apple aroma.
If You Like Pinot Grigio
Recommendation: South Hill Cider's Pomme Sur Lie
Description: Smoky, full of tannins
"Pinot gris can vary depending on the region, but its combination of spicy and fruity notes makes it easy to translate to cider," Bystryn says. If you go for this type of wine, she recommends South Hill's Pomme Sur Lie. "It has a silky mouthfeel and a balance of fruit aromas and spicy notes that you'll love."
If You Like Chardonnay
Recommendation: Snowdrift Cider Co.'s Barrel-Aged Cornice
Description: Floral with notes of cinnamon and tannins
For chardonnay lovers, the cider expert offers a Barrel-Aged Cornice from Snowdrift Cider Co. "This cider is aged in American oak, which gives it a beautifully rounded character that balances notes of peaches, vanilla, and caramel along with just a bit of subtle, sparkling bubbles," Bystryn says.
If You Like Riesling
Recommendation: Redbyrd Orchard Cider's Vernal Cloudsplitter
Description: Grassy and tart with notes of clementine
Because riesling tend to be crisp and aromatic, Bystryn recommends a Vernal Cloudsplitter from Redbyrd Orchard Cider. "This bright aromatic cider has a citrusy character with mouthwatering tart fruit notes that are balanced by grassy aromas and tannins to give it the flexibility for which rieslings are so famous."
While Redbyrd's Vernal Cloudsplitter (a sparkling cider) may be difficult to find or is no longer available as of 2020, try their still version of Cloudsplitter, mentioned above.
If You Like Champagne
Recommendation: South Hill Cider's Packbasket Sparkling
Description: Grassy with notes of grapefruit and minerals
South Hill Cider's Packbasket Sparkling cider is made with the same fermentation method as Champagne, making it the perfect drink to try if you can't get enough of the traditional bubbly. "It is dry and elegant while the foraged apples that make it create an untamed quality that's brought out by its intense bubbles," Bystryn explains.
If You Like Rosé
Recommendation: Alpenfire Cider's Glow Aerlie Red
Description: Floral and grassy with notes of berry
Thanks to the natural red flesh of the apples used to make this cider, it gives off a coral hue similar to a dry, sophisticated rosé, according to Bystryn. "This dry, subtly sparkling cider holds an irresistible blend of floral, strawberry, and grassy notes that make it the perfect partner for any meal—from poultry to a fruit dessert."
If You Like Pinot Noir
Recommendation: Alpenfire Cider's Spark Heirloom Blend
Description: Woody with notes of brown sugar
If you're a fan of delicate red wine, Bystryn suggests sipping on a Spark Heirloom Blend from Alpenfire Cider. "It’s a medium dry, well-rounded cider that treats drinkers to twiggy and apple-y flavors," Bystryn says.
If You Like Malbec
Recommendation: Snowdrift Cider Co.'s Red Cider
Description: Notes of melon, berry, and stone fruit
"If you're drawn to the lush, deep, berry flavors of malbec, you'll want a balanced cider that's still bursting with ripe fruit flavors," Bystryn notes. That's why you'll want to try Snowdrift Cider's Red Cider. She describes it as, "Lush, yet balanced with just a hint of sweetness."
If You Like Merlot
Recomendation: Liberty Ciderworks' Manchurian Crabapple SV
Description: Woody with notes of vanilla and berry
"Merlot is velvety and luxurious, so you'll want a still cider with a fantastic richness," the cider connoisseur indicates. Try the Manchurian Crabapple SV from Liberty Ciderworks to mirror a merlot's flavor palate. "It has tremendous body but also the intriguing fruitiness unique to crabapples."
Since most of these cider labels are smaller operations, the best way to confirm what's available at retailers or for shipping is to give them a call or send them a quick email, as their website may be out-of-date.
If You Like Cabernet Sauvignon
Recommendation: Tilted Shed Ciderworks' New England Style Barrel-Aged Cider
Description: Oaky with notes of apple peel and stone fruit
"Cabernet sauvignon is a big, bold wine with earthy tannins and substantial body," according to Bystryn. If this is your go-to wine, you'll want to try an equally commanding cider, like Titled Shed Ciderworks' New England Style Barrel-Aged Cider. "This is a luscious and robust cider, dry yet full-bodied with notes of peaches, apple peel, and oak," Bystryn says.