Yarra Valley-based cider producer Napoleone & Co has managed to embrace both ends of the burgeoning cider market, with its sweeter, easy-drinking brands balanced by so-called ''methode traditionelle'' labels.
An offshoot of Punt Road Wines, the cider operation is overseen by Behn Payten, who employs traditional sparkling wine techniques for the latter.
''Essentially, it's the champenoise method of getting bubbles into cider, with a secondary fermentation in the bottle,'' Payten says. ''We add juice rather than sugar liqueur, put the bottles into our barrel room at 16 degrees and let it go.''
The pear cider gets a minimum four months' maturation at this stage, he says. ''The longer the time in bottle, the finer the bead and better the mousse.
''I'd like to see what 12 months does and even longer - if I'm allowed to.''
Napoleone & Co Pear Cider Traditionelle shared the ''best perry'' award at last year's inaugural Australian Cider Awards. At the time, Payten said he felt they were still refining their production techniques and the quality was improving with every batch.
The pear cider is made from a combination of varieties - packham's triumph and beurre bosc, grown at Napoleone & Co's orchards. Payten says the estate-grown fruit gives the cider ''a sense of place'' and he prefers varieties of apples and pears grown for eating over traditional cider varieties.
''You get cleaner fruit flavours using table apples and pears developed for Australian conditions. We get some pretty good phenolics - which I think is a good thing,'' he says. But Payten isn't a fan of the ''agricultural'' flavours of brettanomyces present in certain English and Normandy ciders. Winemakers are understandably wary of ''brett'', considered an off flavour in wine.
Payten says the slightly lactic acidity of the latest pear cider release is a result of ''malolactic fermentation'' in the secondary stage.
''The [high] carbonation levels keep it clean and crisp,'' he says.
While such a bone-dry cider might not be to everyone's taste, Payten wants drinkers to enjoy it as an aperitif or ''a prosecco substitute'', rather than drinking cider as an alternative to beer.
The latest batch of pear cider is about 3500 bottles; a third will be sold through Punt Road Wines's cellar door, and the rest distributed to restaurants and retail outlets.
Other noteworthy drops to come my way include Absolut Elyx, which, unusually for vodka, is distilled in a copper still and is made from a single harvest of Swedish winter wheat. The result is a super-premium vodka with a deliciously silky texture and delicate red-berry characters, which can easily be sipped straight. In a blind-tasting with competitors Grey Goose and Belvedere, it stood out as supple, smooth and classy.
West Winds Gin, new from Margaret River, uses local indigenous ingredients in its two offerings, the Cutlass and the Sabre. The former is flavoured with bush tomato and bottled at higher strength; the unusual savoury palate appeals as the base to a uniquely Australian dirty martini. The gins are available at Kemenys, Oak Barrel, Camperdown Cellars, Eau de Vie, Porteno, the Victoria Room, and the Anchor in Bondi.
ABSOLUT ELYX (40 per cent) Aroma: clean, minty, delicately fruity. Palate: silky and supple with hints of crushed mint leaves, cranberries and redcurrants. Overall: beautifully integrated, delicate flavours elevate this premium vodka to a rare level. RRP: $65/700ml.
WEST WINDS THE CUTLASS (50 per cent) Aroma: hints of juniper, earth and spice. Palate: gumleaves and lemon zest notes initially, bush pepper notes emerge in finish. Overall: intriguing savoury characters. RRP: $72/700ml.
WEST WINDS THE SABRE (40 per cent) Aroma: lemon myrtle, spice and pine needle notes. Palate: lemon myrtle dominates at first, gumleaf and lemon zest in mid-palate, gentle spice sustains the finish. Overall: lots of bush-tucker flavours. RRP: $52/700ml.
NAPOLEONE & CO PEAR CIDER (5 per cent) Pallid straw, hazy, lively carbonation. Aroma: wet hay, bruised pear skin, faint barnyard notes. Palate: pear drops, lactic notes, dense mousse; finish is dry and acidic with crisp, green pear notes. Overall: a complex, dry perry. RRP: $18/500ml.