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From winery error to culinary treasure: the journey of sherry vinegar

By Cristina Giner
From winery error to culinary treasure: the journey of sherry vinegar
Copyright  euronews   -  

Have you ever wondered how sherry vinegar is made?  Euronews went to Spain's Andalusia region at Jerez de la Fontera to pull back the curtain on the secrets of this unique ingredient.

Discovered by accident during the winemaking process, it has become an essential condiment in haute cuisine!

Spain is home to three of the five European vinegars safeguarded by the Protected Designation of Origin label. Sherry vinegar or, " Vinegar of Xerés", is produced in the south of Spain Cádiz and Seville.

This vinegar originates from the noble wines of Jerez and its unique 'terroir'. The chalky landscape plays an essential role in the cultivation of the vines. Manuel Delgado is in charge of these impressive González Byass vineyards.

"This Albariza soil is a calcareous soil that has a tremendous water retention capacity, which means that, in the winter months when it rains, it captures all the water and acts as our irrigation system," Delgado explains.

This hot and dry landscape is home to a resistant grape variety.

"Palomino is the main grape variety because it has been in the area for more than 3,000 years and gives very good characteristics to wines and vinegars. Pedro Ximenez and Moscatel are mainly used for sweet wines and also to sweeten vinegar," he says.

A historic maturation method

For years, the ‘sour wine’ was a source of shame for Xerés wineries. Bacteria transformed the alcohol into acetic acid during the elaboration process.

Today however, is a liquid treasure.

I visit the first winery that dared to commercialise the vinegar. It was Antonio Páez, the grandfather of vinegar-maker Esperanza Ramírez, who came up with the idea in the 1940s.

My grandfather always said that everyone called him crazy for wanting to sell this product. Today, though, he is known throughout the region as the ‘King of Vinegar.’ He was a visionary.
Esperanza Ramírez Páez
Vinegar-maker at Bodega Páez Morilla

As we walked though the cellar, we could smell the strong scent of wood and vinegar from the fermentation process, unique to this region.

"The ageing system for sherry vinegar is the same as the one used for sherry wines," Ramírez explains.

The dynamic process is called 'criaderas y soleras'. 

Oak barrels are piled-up in a pyramid fashion with the freshest vinegar stored on the top rows or “criaderas”. As the vinegar ages, it’s gradually moved down the pyramid.

This is done by transferring the liquid in small batches to the barrels in the lower rows where the older vinegars are kept.

The aged vinegar is then taken from the bottom row of barrels, the “solera”, ready to be bottled.

Euronews
Criadera Barrels containing the Sherry VinegarEuronews

A variety of vinegars

It’s said the vinegar’s unique aroma comes from the wood and the maturing process. Ezperanza explains the classification of the vinegar types she works with.

"The vinegars are classified into three categories depending on their age. The youngest vinegars are between 6 months and 2 years old (...) Then we have the ‘Reserves’ which range from 2 to 10 years of age and the "Grand Reserves" which are over 10 years old."

There are also special vinegars made with a touch of Pedro Ximénez sweet wine and with Moscatel that are likewise grouped under the erés Protected Designation of Origin label

Sherry vinegar is one of those affordable luxuries that can be found in any kitchen in the world. It has an intensity and versatility that goes very well with any dish from very different cuisines".
César Saldaña
President of the Denominación de Origen de Jerez

A happy accident makes for an irreplaceable ingredient

To find out more, I head to a special restaurant where every dish is cooked with Sherry vinegar or wine

In the culinary world, Sherry vinegar is an irreplaceable ingredient in both, haute cuisine and home cooking. It marries well with a plethora of different ingredients and this unique flavour enhancer brings new savours to hot and cold dishes

For Chef Javier Muñoz of the restaurant La Carboná,  this type of vinegar opens up a world of endless possibilities. Its flavour and intensity can be tasted in every dish

"It is a great flavour enhancer, especially when it is cooked, it mellows and harmonises very well with the other ingredients. We are very lucky to have this diversity amongst sherry vinegars, I love the Moscatel and the Pedro Ximenez, which have such sweet notes that we can make an infinite number of desserts with them."

Euronews
Sherry vinegar-based dishEuronews

If only all mistakes were as delicious as these vinegar-based desserts!

Journalist • Cristina Giner