B.C. cider offering has distinct tartness

For about as long as I can remember, cider in B.C. has been a proverbial crapshoot.

But recently things have been looking up, even more so with the unveiling of a new cider produced by B.C. Tree Fruits. BCTF is an Okanagan Valley co-operative of more than 500 growers, which was established almost 80 years ago.

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BCTF says Broken Ladder has been years in the works. The name Broken Ladder is a cute reference to the often precarious wooden ladders that were once standard issue for Okanagan pickers. There's more to that back story: in the early 1930s it was apples, not grapes, that kick started B.C.'s commercial (as opposed to sacramental) wine industry at both Calona Wines and Victoria's Growers.

I grew up in cider country in Somerset in the southwest of England. In fact, I experienced my first brush with drinking and "driving" when a friendly policeman gently suggested that maybe my friend and I shouldn't have been trying to cycle down the white line of the local main road after a pint of scrumpy cider.

The first time I tasted what passed for cider in Canada I was in shock. It was sweet and tasted processed. For a while I consoled myself with Strongbow but eventually gave up on that as it seemed to become increasingly sweet.

Here in B.C. we're blessed with a small number of excellent, smaller craft cideries. When Al Piggott opened Cobble Hill's Merridale Ciderworks in the 1990s I was blown away by my very first taste.

I thought I recognized something familiar. English cider apples have a distinct tartness but without being bitter. Many of Piggott's trees came from Long Ashton Research Station, literally about 10 miles away from where I lived in the U.K. More recently I've been excited by what others are up to, such as Saanich's Sea Cider. Plus, now comes news that prolific fruit winery Elephant Island is poised to open Naramata Cidery.

Overall, though, when it comes to widely available, more commercial cider there's been a void in drier styles that don't taste like someone dropped in a bag of Aspartame.

Happily, B.C. Tree Fruits Broken Ladder has no sweeteners or other additives. Not surprisingly, apple is what you get on the nose, followed by a light, refreshing more Gala than Granny Smith palate (although I have no idea which six kinds of eating apples are used, as it's not divulged). It's crisp and clean, if not very complex, which it doesn't have to be.

At one point a simple style of Riesling crossed my mind. It's also light and airy, nicely effervescent without being gassy. But don't let it sit too long. As for sweetness, I hope they keep Broken Ladder where it is and come out with a tart, more dry option for us acid freaks.

Look for B.C. Tree Fruits Broken Ladder at B.C. Liquor Stores (and others) as of April 1. (BCLS $11.49 per four pack.)

Coming Friday, April 17 is the fifth annual Malbec World Day with a wealth of free tastings at a number of stores, private and public throughout the month. On the day itself, stores will pour at least six different wines, including Malbecs and Malbec blends. Private stores will also be serving samples of traditional Argentine food.

In addition, select B.C. LDB stores throughout the province will offer free tastings of Argentine wines throughout April. There's no time like the present to raise a glass to Argentina's now globally popular grape and prime the pump for barbecue season.

Belly's Budget Best

Gunderloch Fritz's Riesling 2013 (Rheinhessen)

This juicy, peachy-citrus and even appealingly viscous Riesling (named after globe-trotting winery owner Fritz Hasselbach), with nice fruit-acid balance, will get you in the mood for spring by just looking at the label. Think grilled pork chops and apple sauce or even shuck a few oysters, or just sip it (BCLS/Everything Wine $17.99, may vary after April 1, 90 points).

Tim Pawsey writes about wine for numerous publications and online as the Hired Belly at hiredbelly.com. Contact: info@hiredbelly.com.

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