Sherry vinegar, along with the sherry wine from which it is produced, is made with the Palomino grape grown in the Andalusia region of Spain.A special micro-climate exists in the south western part of Andalusia where the three principal sherry towns can be found:
The Jerez DOC (denomination of origin) label was created in 1994 to ensure that this aged liquid, called "Vinagre de Jerez", always meets strict quality standards.
Sherry vinegar has a complex balanced sweet and sour taste with hints of oak and nuts in a sherry wine base. It is well known in the world of "haute cusine" and its popularity for home use is steadily increasing each year.
It is sold in two age categories, the first is aged for at least six months in oak barrels while the second category, called Reserva, has to be aged in oak casks for at least two years. Many fine Reserva vinegars are available on the market that have been aged for 12, 25, 40 and even 80 years.
Naturally the older the vinegar the more exquisite its taste and the higher its value. Nevertheless, when compared to similarly aged traditional balsamic vinegar from Italy, this Spanish vinegar is much more affordable. Couple that with the fact that the Reserva product has a complexity of taste like that of balsamic vinegar and it is not hard to understand why sherry vinegar can be used, when needed, as a substitute for balsamic vinegar. Conversely, aged balsamic vinegar can be used as a sherry vinegar substitute."
The traditional system of aging sherry wine and vinegar is called the Solera process.
This system makes use of many 500-litre oak barrels, stacked 3 or more levels high, which previously contained sherry wine but now contain sherry vinegar of different ages.
The oldest vinegar is stored in the bottom row of barrels called the Solera and this is the final stage vinegar used for bottling and sale.
No more than a third of the liquid in the Solera is removed for bottling at one time.
This third is then replaced with younger vinegar from the first row of barrels stored directly above the Solera called the first Criadera.
The volume in the first Criadera is then replenished with younger vinegar from the row of barrels stored above the first Criadera aptly called the second Criadera.
Finally the top row of barrels is filled with the newest and youngest sherry vinegar.
This time honored aging and blending process insures that consistent quality vinegar is always produced from year to year.
All the oak barrels are placed in vast, well-ventilated structures called bodegas where they are exposed to lots of fresh air and warmth.
Since these wooden barrels are never completely filled or sealed, they constantly receive air needed for the vinegar maturation process and that also helps to assure consistent quality.
Some of these fine aged products sold throughout North America in health food stores or on the internet include:1) Cala & Arrobas
Sherry vinegars are used extensively in cooking for marinades and salad dressings, for tomato based soups and sauces and even as a fruit topping. Here are three examples:
1) Gazpacho (classic cold Spanish soup) - makes 3 servings
In this video, chef John shows you an excellent way to prepare this favorite all purpose salad dressing, explaining how best to emulsify it.
3) Strawberries with Sherry Vinegar - makes 3 servings