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The Vinegars of Jerez

Vinegar or “Vinum Acre”

Sherry Vinegar honors its Latin roots, the term vinum acre, meaning "sour wine." In fact, this vinegar is closely linked to the history of its wine of origin, which is none other than the famous Sherry of Jerez. Actually, it was first treated as an "accident" that occurred in the aging of wine, when some of the botas (oak casks where the wine is aged) went vinegary. It is no wonder this happened on more than one occasion, due to the particular method of making and aging Sherry wines, implying, in many of its types, a biological aging. The fact is that at first, these casks were discarded as a valid product and hidden in small cellars, separated from the rest.

However, the winemakers soon began to discover the benefits of these "sour wines", and those failures in the production of sherry were little by little becoming true objects of praise, for the exclusive and privileged enjoyment of their families, or offered as special gifts for their relations. Over time, the word spread and processing techniques were improved, so that Sherry Vinegar soon began to accompany the wines of the area in their journey across borders throughout the entire world...

Designation of Origin

Once recognition and appreciation was achieved for this vinegar as a food product with its own identity, it was awarded the proper name of Vinagre de Jerez, or Sherry Vinegar (or Vinaigre de Xérès, in French). With the dual purpose of preserving all the elements that make up the genuineness of this product while ensuring its authenticity, the "Vinagre de Jerez" Protected Designation of Origin was created in the year 2000, currently sharing its Regulatory Board with Sherry Wines.

The total surface dedicated to vineyards certified by these designations of origin is more than 10,000 hectares, most of which lay between Jerez de la Frontera and Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Other towns included in the protected area are: El Puerto de Santa Maria, Trebujena, Chipiona, Rota, Puerto Real and Chiclana de la Frontera, in the province of Cadiz, and Lebrija, in the province of Seville.

This site’s section on Sherry includes detailed information on the characteristics of the land, the grapes and the preparation of Sherry wine, the distinguished source of Sherry Vinegar.

Differentiating factors

Palomino is the predominant grape variety in the production zone of Sherry wine, and consequently Sherry Vinegar, although the use of other varieties such as Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel has been expanding in recent years to create variations of the original Sherry vinegar. Other essential differentiating factors are the biological aging under the velo de flor (a “veil” of natural yeasts and molds that covers the wine in aging), with the natural action of yeasts selected from time immemorial, as well as the aging in American oak casks, and finally, the particular micro-climatic conditions favored by the architecture of the wineries.

The wood used in aging, which for years has been envinada, or conditioned with Sherry wines, stimulates a micro-oxygenation that is essential for the slow evolution of the vinegar. It also allows key components such as tannins to be active during aging, providing coloring agents, rendering the final tones of vinegar, from amber to mahogany, as well as flavor notes with hints of vanilla and aromas of cream or roasted coffee.

Elaboration method

Two possible processes can be distinguished for acidification, one that transforms the base wine (young unfortified wine) through a process of rapid acetic fermentation, with forced air technology and temperature control, and another, in which the fortified wine undergoes a slow acidification process, within the same wooden vessels in which aging occurs. Once the base wines are transformed into vinegar by either of these two methods, an aging period begins, specific to each type of vinegar, which is what gives this product its unique character.

This process can be carried out through either a system called criaderas and solera (the same system used with the Sherry wines that the vinegar comes from), or a system of añadas (vintages), which apt vinegars undergo for a minimum time period, necessary to achieve the organoleptic and analytical qualities specific to the type or variety of vinegar to be produced.

The criaderas and solera is a dynamic system based on the transfer of vinegars, obtaining an excellent homogenization of the product, year after year, while maintaining consistent quality. It should be clarified, therefore, that when we refer to a “solera” of a given year, this does not mean that all the vinegar contained in the cask belongs the year in question, but rather, that the cask contains a mixture of all the vintages that have taken place from that year to the last.

The system is carried out as follows: certified new vinegar is introduced into oak casks, the so-called botas. There are several rows (or escalas) of casks set one on top of the other, called criaderas, resting on a first row that rests on the floor, the solera. The process involves making a corrida de escalas (shifting of scales), which means that each year a small portion of the vinegar in the solera casks is extracted to bottle and send to the market. The vinegar is never entirely removed, but rather, the space left by the amount of vinegar removed is filled (or rociado, sprinkled) with an equivalent amount of another cask, in the row immediately above (this is called the saca), which in turn is filled with vinegar from another cask in the next row immediately above, and so on, until reaching the first criadera.

Classification of the Vinegars

Depending on the aging period the certified vinegar has been subjected to, there are three different types of Sherry Vinegar:

1.    Vinagre de Jerez: minimum six months aging.
2.    Vinagre de Jerez Reserva: minimum two years aging.
3.    Vinagre de Jerez Gran Reserva: minimum ten years aging.

In addition, depending on the use of base wines from different grape varieties, we can distinguish the following types of Vinagre de Jerez Semi-dulce, or Semi-sweet Sherry Vinegar (which may also correspond to any of the categories described above):

1.    Vinagre de Jerez al Pedro Ximénez: certified vinegar, to which Pedro Ximénez type wines are added during the aging process.
2.    Vinagre de Jerez al Moscatel: certified vinegar, to which Moscatel type wines are added during the aging process.
Culinary Uses

The rich gastronomy of Cadiz has one of its key elements in Sherry Vinegar. Since ancient times, vinegar, apart from a seasoning, has served as a food preservative and is ideal for maceration and marinades, such as the traditional escabeche, or the very typical adobo of Cadiz. As a condiment, the only caution to be taken with Sherry Vinegar is that it should be used in small quantities, for its robustness and richness in flavors and aromas. But it is ideal for both hot and cold dishes.
Apart from gazpacho and the traditional cold soups, it can provide plentiful nuances to salads, mayonnaise, dressings and cold sauces of all kinds, but also to stews or hot sauces, prepared as a reduction. It can also give a great - and surprising - touch to a variety of ice cream and desserts dishes, perfectly combining, for example, with acidic fruits (strawberries, citrus or kiwi fruit) or jams, and even chocolate!

Its versatility is outstanding, adding a touch of unique personality to countless culinary preparations. It is therefore no wonder that Sherry vinegar enjoys ever-growing prestige in the international culinary scene.

 
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