Tasting cider properly is just like tasting wine – you need to focus on: 1) appearance; 2) aroma; 3) flavour and 4) finish. Four steps to understanding the liquid in your glass!
Make sure you use a clean, clear, wide-bowled glass and just pour about one-quarter full so you can swirl the liquid well to release the aroma before tasting.
Now, take a good look at the cider in the glass first to assess its colour, clarity, how bubbly it is and how rich (viscous) or thin it is when you roll it around. Its appearance is an important and often overlooked part of its appeal, and should be enticing, attractive. And the look of the cider can tell you something about it character before you dive in.
Next, swirl the tasting sample more vigorously, and give it a really big sniff (or series of small sniffs), thinking hard about the scents you are picking up. Apples, yes, but what sort? Ripe, cooked, sweet or freshly picked apples? And your cider might well have the perfume of different fruits too, or of spices, flowers, herbs or oak barrels, cream or cheese and more. Anything that means something to you is valid.
Then take a generous sip of the cider and swirl it around your mouth well to release the flavours. Think about not only those different aspects of fruitiness again, and any other flavours, but also about texture (is it light or rich?), dryness or sweetness, and acidity or bitterness levels. By rolling the liquid around your mouth thoroughly, your taste buds will pick up all these sensations – sweet, sour, bitter, even salty and savoury.
Then you’re at the finish, which is the impression you are left with after tasting the drink. It’s an important last stage in the tasting process as it is often not until now that you can tell if the cider was well balanced, with all the various qualities fusing together beautifully. Check the acidity, sweetness and tannin levels at the end – do they all work as one? And did the flavours disappear quickly or linger satisfyingly on the taste buds?
You’ve done the taste test, so why not make a few notes – only if just for yourself – as they usually prove very useful for future reference, and consider giving each sample a score so you can compare and contrast them.