Sherry wine vinegars, one of the most sophisticated perfumes in the world of gastronomy, are considered amongst the finest ingredients providing chefs, home cooks, culinary experts and modern day Speakeasy-style mixologists with a wide array of flavors for cooking and mixing cocktails. Unique sherry wines aged into exceptional vinegars provide kitchens around the world with a wide range of possibilities to demonstrate exquisite culinary creations involving menus of a traditional kind to the most modern and avant-garde.
Originally referred to sherry wine vinegars as “sour wines” by the Romans, consumed by lesser beings, became a staple ingredient for both drink and food creation for the Spanish peasantry over many centuries. These sherry wine vinegars’ unique diversity is derived from the range of diverse regional grape varieties in western Andalusia, Spain spanning from the historic regions of Córdoba to the Jerez region. The unique aging techniques display distinctive flavors and characteristics for culinary experts and mixologist, alike, to explore, utilize and have fun with.
Since the mid twentieth century winemakers started to view sherry wine vinegar as a prized product, and began to carefully age their vinegars in the same way as their wines and brandies in bodegas. Thus the recent release of exquisite 50 year Pedro Ximenez balsamic wine vinegars from throughout the region especially under PDO Vinagre de Montilla-Moriles designation.
Barrels containing vinegar are always quickly removed from the wine bodega, this is to prevent other barrels of wine also turning to vinegar. Any barrels which have contained vinegar cannot usually be used to store wine again due to the risk of acetic fermentation. In the past the vinegar was given away to staff and family of the owner or sold at the bodega door. Some barrels were stored separately and often forgotten about. These vinegars, many 50 years in the making, are now being released and re-discovered.
Spain’s sherry wine vinegar industry prides itself on picking drinking wine quality palomino, Moscatel or Pedro Ximenez grapes, particularly, in the Córdoba region under the lesser known yet highly respected PDO Vinagre de Montilla-Moriles with traditional wine making maturation techniques – the solera system. However, instead of the wine getting fortified, it is fermented further for a minimum of six months up to several decades, with bacteria, converting alcohol into acetic acid during which fermentation process the vinegar adopts the aged oak barrel flavors and aromas along with delicate pale golden (Fino), amber / mahogany (Oloroso), topaz (Moscatel) and ebony (Pedro Ximenez) colors depending on the amount of oxygenation. As sherry wines, sherry vinegars are also protected by Denomination of Origin per regions such as PDO Vinagre de Jerez, PDO Vinagre de Condado de Huelva and the earlier discussed PDO Vinagre de Montilla-Moriles.
Our attention on the highly coveted Montilla-Moriles denomination of origin sherries, exhibit semi-sweet, or sweet-and-sour flavor vinegars reflecting this area’s longstanding tradition of Fino, Oloroso, Moscatel and Pedro Ximénez (PX) wines. Located in southern Córdoba in the Andalusian region, more than three-quarters of the region’s vines are PX. Of course, not all wines are sweet; there are also a wide range of grape varieties that include finos, amontillados and olorosos, and these same types of wine are reflected in the region’s vinegars.
The vinegars are aged in criaderas and solera, or as añadas. Most commonly, the solera technique used involves an alcoholic fermentation of high quality wine destined to become vinegar. In American Oak barrels, the wine is treated with a mother culture from an older batch of vinegar, which barrels rest on top of three or more rows of barrels, slowly facilitating the conversion of alcohol into vinegar. During bottling, producers will take vinegar from their most mature barrels on the bottom row without draining them completely. That empty space will then be filled with younger vinegar from another barrel, and then that barrel may then be filled with even younger wine, back on top of the several stacked rows. This process repeats year after year, so each bottle contains small amounts of very mature vinegar that mixes with newer vintages of wine vinegar.
As in the other sherry wine regions, PDO Vinagre de Montilla-Moriles boasts several different vinegar categories based on the type and length of aging: Añada (minimum 3 years in a single oak barrel), Crianza (6 months), Reserva (2 years) and Gran Reserva (minimum 5 years). Additionally, these wine vinegars may be classified by their sweetness and grape varieties which classifications are dependent on the adding of additional concentrated juice from freshly mashed grapes or a small amount of aromatic wine. Thus, the resulting wine vinegars exhibit pale golden (Fino), amber / mahogany (Oloroso), topaz (Moscatel) and ebony (Pedro Ximenez) colors with velvety liquids that give off a rich hint of diverse flavors with delicately sour notes for an elegant finish.
Although this region was recently granted its Designation of Origin status in 2008, vinegars from PDO Montilla-Moriles have already made a name for themselves throughout the world and Khayyan is pleased to be part of the introduction of these unique flavors to America and the rest of the world.