Can Cider Be to Latvia What Wine Is to France?

Far from a centuries-old tradition, cider making in Latvia arose in the 1990s. Since then, the industry has blossomed, and cider makers and pub owners have united to create a local Cider Route - a rival to the wine routes of Western Europe?

apple cider
While Latvia has yet to secure a solid place on the world map of wine, the Baltic country can offer its own kind of gourmet beverage experience: cider. Photo: Photoboyko / stock.adobe.com

The promise of savoring exotic taste profiles lures people to wineries in countries far and wide. While Latvia has yet to secure a solid place on the world map of wine, the Baltic country can offer its own kind of gourmet beverage experience. Thanks to an abundance of apple trees and a national ability to identify promising niches, one can indulge in a lesser worshipped but no less deserving member of the fermented drinks family: cider.

Latvia does not have an age-old tradition of cider making. The culture started to take shape in the 1990s, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the possibilities of business became apparent. Since then, the industry has matured to the point of developing its own tourism product. The so-called Cider Route unites cideries, restaurants, and pubs that serve cider, guiding visitors on a flavorful journey through Latvia.

What sensations to expect from a Latvian cider

Like soil and climate conditions affect a grapevine, so too, Latvia’s four distinct seasons and clayey-sandy soils nurture a regional apple experience. A sincerely Latvian cider is one made of classic apple varieties like the Sīpoliņš, Antonovka and Pepiņš found in historical orchards, or wild crab apples, picked in fall and winter. It is a crisp, aromatic beverage that is more acidic, less tannic, and bitter, and it maintains the original taste of the fruit. While inspired by the products of cider giants like France and England, Latvian cider is usually made with methods more commonly used to produce white wine.

A cider-driven journey through Latvia will take you where the magic happens. Several cideries, such as Mr. Plūme, Abuls, and Tālavas Sidrs, open their doors for tours, tastings, and shopping. A far cry from the streamlined, commercial wineries in California, Australia, or France that you might have experienced, the Cider Route’s cideries are small, family-run affairs. Here, a “typical” owner is likely the producer, business manager, and marketing guru all in one. This means visitors can’t just rock up expecting an open house but should book in advance. A visit may be accompanied by live music from the owners’ own repertoire or tasting food from neighboring producers.

Beginners or skeptics can start with flavored ciders

If cider is not your usual, yet you are curious to try this newfound flavor of the north, start with a mixed variety. Producers experiment with fruit and berries to create ever-new taste experiences for today’s demanding consumer. You can find Latvian ciders with a hint of quince, a touch of chokeberry, or a dash of elderflower.

In winter, hot cider is a thing and may come sprinkled with cinnamon, infused with cloves and orange just like the mulled wine of Europe’s Christmas markets. As a bonus of choosing cider, consumers can rest in the knowledge that it scores well for sustainability. The apples grow locally, and fermentation doesn’t use much energy. A Latvian cider holiday is an intriguing regional alternative to the renowned wine tours of Western Europe.

Lelde Beņķe-Lungeviča

Lelde combines an education in journalism with a background in destination marketing. She is a Riga-based communications professional and runs LifeInRiga.com, which she defines as the hybrid of an expat blog and guidebook. Latvian by nationality, Lelde grew up in Australia, went to school in Latvia, studied and worked in several countries before happily settling in Riga. Anything Lelde does, she does with a deep dedication.

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