Though not nearly as ubiquitous as wine competitions, cider competitions are growing in number. The reason for this is simple: more cider brands and more ciders. But what is notably different about judging ciders and judging wine (and this is very important to both cidermakers and cider drinkers) is that is it is much easier to evaluate multiple ciders at a sitting than it is wine.
I recently sat again as a judge in the cider category at the Good Food Awards, which celebrate and reward food and drink that focus on sustainability and authenticity. Myself and eleven other judges each tasted about 50 ciders. Nearly 140 ciders were entered into the competition.
What struck me as we evaluated one cider after the other was the relative ease of concentrating on each cider without being distracted by palate fatigue. With wine judging (I’ve participated as a judge in a number of wine competitions) the great challenge is overcoming palate fatigue. Nothing is more challenging than this.
There are good reasons why palate fatigue doesn’t play the same role in judging ciders:
1. Higher Acid in Ciders
Acidity is a natural palate cleanser and the enemy of palate fatigue. The generally refreshing nature of cider derived primarily from higher levels of acidity as well as from its often sparkling nature tends to sweep the palate clean. This, in essence, wipes the window clean with each cider to see the next with equal clarity.
2. Lower Alcohol Levels
The average alcohol level of a wine is somewhere between 13.5% and 14.5%. This may not seem like much when you compare it to spirits, but after just a few different glasses, the wine judge finds themself fighting the heat alcohol leaves on the palate. There are strategies for combating this problem, but it remains a challenge. On the other hand, most ciders come in at around 7% alcohol. The impact on the palate is far less.
3. Lower Tannin Levels.
The key to many a good cider is sufficient tannin levels. But it is rare that a cider possesses the same levels of cider as most red wines, which all wine judge will encounter over and over. The relatively little tannin in most ciders, when combined with a wash of water after the evaluation, is easy to deal with and even has a similar effect as acidity at this lower level. A lot of tannin however is very difficult to rid from one’s mouth and with too much gone untreated can easily numb the palate.
The higher acidity, lower alcohols and lower tannins in cider all combine to make it much easier for the cider judge to concentrate. And this is where it becomes a real advantage to the cidery that has entered ciders into a competition and to the cider drinker looking for new ciders to try and turning to cider competitions to find them: Cider judges are working under few handicaps and are able to focus their mind and palate on the drink in front of them with fewer distractions. The result must be better results.
The proof of this will come from wine judges themselves. Just ask them, what is easier to judge in large numbers, white wine or red wine? The answer every time will be white wine—which is much more like cider.