Cider beats wine to the top table

Let Battle commenceCider took on wine and won with resounding success at its first battle for the diners’ hearts at The Thatchers Arms on 2 February.

Despite an all-glittering wine cast provided by Harpers Best Sommelier of the Year Emily O’Hare and Adnams’ Dan Probert, the selection from eighth-generation cider maker, Henry Aspall and Beer Writer of the Year, Pete Brown took four of the five rounds.To be fair, the menu was suitably challenging, having been created by Thatchers Arm’s host, Mitch Adams with his talented chef crew. Imagine finding a match for mackerel fillet with a fennel, mint & parsley salsa without tasting said creation.

Following some feisty fighting talk on Twitter, the diners enjoyed a glass of Cuvée Chevallier, while the Wine and Cider champions squared up to each other in the bar beforehand.

Then it was time for action. Emily gave a crash course in how to REALLY taste wine, including the classic line about making a face “like a cat’s ass” when swooshing the wine around your mouth, while Pete reminded us hundreds of years ago, cider WAS our national drink, so we were really reviving a 400-year tradition.

Voting for Cider vs WineIn Ready, Steady, Cook style, diners were asked to vote after each course, not on the drink itself, but on how well the drink went with the dish, with green cards for cider and red for wine. The first course, a tasty broccoli soup with added tang from parmesan cheese, proved tricky, but won twice as many cider fans for the Spanish ambassador of the evening, the El Gaitero cider.

Next up, fish. Diners joined with me in reckoning that the fragrant Gouguenheim Torrontés provided sufficient complexity to match the delightful warm mackerel dish, with its fresh, green salsa, although Pete felt the Aspall Premier cru harmonised better –“the wine is more dramatic”, he said.

Then came crunch time: an iconic Suffolk speciality, Blythburgh Pork Belly with a flavour-fuelled homemade sausage and tomato-based bean cassoulet. Pork and reds often step out together in Portugal, so could cider, regarded by many as the quintessential partner for pork, turn the tables?

Henneys CiderThe numbers were totted up... And recounted... And again... Yes, Henney’s Vintage 2011 had won, but by just one vote. 2: 1 to Cider. Could Wine pull it back on the pud course?

The challenge was tough: pastry chef Eddy’s famous Sour Cherry Cheesecake. The Wine corner pulled out all the stops, presenting Billecart Salmon’s Brut Rosé. Despite the red-berry-fuelled bubbles winning over the cider champions, diners preferred the mellow depth of Aspall’s Imperial Cyder, based as it is on Henry’s grandfather’s recipes from the 1920s. This gave Cider an unassailable lead, 3:1, but could Wine halve the difference with their cheese match?

Unfortunately not. Rather than play safe and plump for Port, the guys had gone edgy, opting for a fine amontillado sherry. Unfortunately, although complex, this was too dry, leaving the way clear for the Dragon Tree Orchard Blenheim Superb Dessert Cider to romp home. Proving the evening’s most popular tipple, it’s honeyed sweetness finished the dinner off in style.

“I didn’t think we would win 4-1,” said a surprised Henry. “A few of the wines were knock-out wines. It’s not just about appreciating cider, it’s about changing perceptions.”

Thatchers Arms kitchen crewWe'd like to thank...

Many thanks to all who made this evening possible, most notably Aspall, Adnams, Billecart Salmon, and the top team at The Thatchers Arm, both front-of-house and in the kitchen, pictured left. Finally, big thanks to our Cider and Wine Champions for providing such an inspirational evening.

Here’s to the rematch!

Offshoot Films Film Club members Ashley and Dominic are producing a short video of the evening, so we’ll let you know when that’s ready.

For Wine Champion Dan’s view, see the Adnams blog, and to capture some of the excitement of the night, check out our Storifier  

I’ll be contributing more on the cider and wine food matches to Fiona Beckett’s blog.



Brocolli & Parmesan Soup with Homemade Chilli Foccaccia
17        Vallobera Rioja Blanco, Rueda, Spain; £7.99, Adnams
44        El Gaitero, Spain; £1.55 33cl;, Waitrose 

Sizing up the opposition

Mackerel Fillet with a Fennel, Mint & Parsley Salsa & a Pont Neuf Potato
43        Gougenheim Torrentes 2011, Mendoza, Argentina; £6.99, Adnams
18        Aspall Premier Cru, Suffolk; £2.59/50cl; Aspall, Adnams, Waitrose 

Slow Roast Blythburgh Pork Belly with a Homemade Duck, Pork & Sage Sausage & Tomato & Mixed Bean Cassoulet
30        Quinto do Crasto, Crasto Tinto 2010, Douro Valley, Portugal; £9.49; Adnams
31        Henney's Vintage 2011, Herefordshire; £2.09/50cl; 

Eddy’s Sour Cherry Cheesecake
21        Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé NV Champagne, France; £52.99; Berry Bros & Rudd, selected independents
32        Aspall Imperial Cyder, Suffolk; £3.08/50cl; Aspall,
5  Cheesecake; 3  Abstentions 

Suffolk Gold & Binham Blue Cheeses with chutney & biscuits
3          Gonzales Byass 'Vina AB' Amontillado, Jerez, Spain; £13.59; Adnams
58        Once Upon a Tree Blenheim Superb 2011; Herefordshire; £16/37.5cl; Once Upon a Tree 


The Thatchers ArmsThe Thatchers Arms

Winner of the CAMRA Colchester Rural Pub of the Year award for 2013, The Thatchers Arms won the Colchester CAMRA Pub of the Year gong in 2011 and 2012. It hosts a varied range of events, from book readings through to film screenings. Its next Food & Drink matching event will be a seven-course Beer & Food matched menu during its Beer Festival on 25 May 2013