Grand cru of ciders: Chalkdown awarded Gold at British Cider Championships

25th Jun 19 | Lifestyle

Cider maker Piotr Nahajski tells Sam Wylie-Harris what’s so special about his vintage champagne-style cider.

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Winemakers know their grapes and cider makers know their apples –  and just like the world of wines, there’s so much more to explore when you head off the beaten orchard path and venture into the world of craft cidery.

“When I created Chalkdown, I was absolutely determined to develop a premium sparkling cider that’s produced using the traditional champagne method, with extended ageing, to create a delicate flavour with a gentle brioche character, resulting in an elegant and refreshing drink that’s perfect for any occasion,” says Piotr Nahajski, cider maker and owner, Chalkdown Cider.

Chalkdown Cider
(Chalkdown/PA)

A delicious alternative to sparkling wine, Chalkdown 2015 (£12, Fortnum & Mason) was awarded Gold for the Best Bottle Fermented Cider at the UK’s largest cider competition.

So what makes Chalkdown the grand cru of ciders?

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“Chalkdown is made using handpicked apples (250,000 of them every year) that are then hand-sorted again when they get into the Cider Barn so we’re only using the purest fruit,” says Nahajski.

“We press them very gently and then ferment them using champagne yeasts. Chalkdown is made by the champagne method, which means it’s fermented twice – once in the tank and then a second time in the bottle, where it’s left to mature for at least a year and a half.

“In total it takes us two and a half years to produce a bottle of Chalkdown. We even hand polish every bottle when it’s ready, to make sure it leaves the Cider Barn looking smart.”

What’s special about a vintage cider?

“We make only the one cider – but we do it on a vintage basis. And every vintage is slightly different. It reflects the weather we’ve had during that growing season.

“For example, in 2014 we had lots of warm sunshine and the cider reflects that; it’s more bold and robust. 2015 was cooler and the Chalkdown from that year is finer and more delicate.”

Does vintage cider improve with age?

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“Because of the way Chalkdown is made, it has a particularly long shelf life. My first vintage was in 2013 – and I have only a handful of bottles left. But the cider is still looking and tasting amazing.

“It’s slightly deeper in colour and the flavour has become more honeyed. Absolutely delicious. I don’t know how long it will keep developing – I’ll have to keep tasting to find out!”

Is there such a thing as an A-list apple for cider making?

“Cox’s Orange Pippin is a beautiful apple for making a champagne-style cider. It has a beautiful pure apple flavour, but also hints of melon, pear and mango. And it has a fabulous fresh acidity which is so important if the cider is to be well balanced.”

What’s the perfect cider and food pairing?

Chalkdown Cider with stawberries and cheese
(Chalkdown/PA)

“With so many different cider styles, there are a great many food pairings to be discovered, but here are a couple of my personal favourites.

“Firstly cheese. A fine delicate cider like Chalkdown works well with a creamy cheeses like the triple-cream Brillat-Savarin. The slight sweetness in Chalkdown (it’s quite subtle) also works with hard tangy cheeses such as Old Winchester Hill.

“Secondly, I would recommend cured meats – especially pork-based ones. Apples and pork seem to be such natural flavour partners. I can see a time in the not-too-distant future when ciders will regularly appear as a recommended accompaniment on tasting menus in fine-dining restaurants.”

Is there a perfect cider glass?

Chalkdown Cider with flute
(Chalkdown/PA)

“It depends on the cider style. For Chalkdown, I would recommend a tall, tulip-shaped glass. The tall glass allows you to appreciate the small bubbles before you taste them.

“And the narrowing rim allows the delicate, yet complex, aromas to be concentrated and fully appreciated. I would certainly take a moment to enjoy Chalkdown impact on the senses – its appearance, its aroma and only then the pleasure of actually drinking it.”

What does Nahajski drink when he’s not drinking cider?

“I love exploring new grape varieties and exciting wine regions. And I love sparkling wine. So my favourite drink at the moment would be an English sparkling wine.

“There are some great winemakers and a fantastically dynamic sector in England and Wales. And as I’m based in Hampshire, I’m lucky to be surrounded by some great local winemakers.

“I confess that I’m also partial to Calvados – with a little chocolate.”

© Press Association 2019

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