Solera 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 bar men and women with a wide array of flavors for cooking and mixing cocktails.
Unique 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 wine vinegars as “sour wines” (vinum acre) by the Romans, (consumed by lesser beings), these vinegars became a staple ingredient for both drink and food creation for the Spanish peasantry over many centuries. These wine vinegars’ unique diversity is derived from the range of diverse regional grape varieties and wine quality in western Andalusia, Spain spanning from the historic regions of south Córdoba province to the Jerez region. The unique aging techniques display distinctive flavors and characteristics for culinary experts and bartenders, alike, to explore, utilize and have fun with.
There is evidence in historical archives in the Montilla-Moriles region of the existence of vinegar since 1651, as described by an inventory of goods of the Marquise of Priego and Duchess of Feria, which consisted of "fourteen vases of large jars, of which three were full of vinegar”. Since the mid twentieth century, winemakers started to view solera 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 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 (wine cellar) door. Some barrels were stored separately and often forgotten about.
Traditional bodega in the Cordoba region of Spain using the Solera aging process. Image courtesy Khayyan Specialty Foods.
These vinegars, many 50 years in the making, are now being released and re-discovered. Spain’s wine vinegar industry prides itself on picking aperitif wine quality Fino, Oloroso, Moscatel or Pedro Ximenez wine denominations, 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 oxidation. As solera wines, their derived 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.
The highly coveted Montilla-Moriles denomination of origin wine vinegars exhibit semi-sweet, sharp-dry or sweet-and-sour flavor vinegars reflecting this area’s longstanding tradition of full bodied and extraordinary flavor 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 acetic 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 delicate process masterfully 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 wine vinegar 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 10 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 sweet PX 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 delicate sour notes for an elegant finish.
About the Author
Natalia F. Cabrera is the founder of Khayyan Specialty Foods. She began her career in finance working for Lehman Brothers and other financial institutions. Khayyan is a producer, importer and distributor of ingredients and the company was created under the premise that culinary excellence is supported by outstanding ingredients. As customers demand healthier and more sustainable products it compelled her to do something about it. The combination of healthy, good quality and traceable food will be one of the major issues that will affect all countries and how food is grown and presented.
Natalia brings a bit of her Mediterranean “heritage,” ingredients that are part of culinary traditions and part of her personal family stories that have defined their food for generations. Together with a team in Rioja, Spain, they produce food that is natural, organic and affordable at all levels. www.khayyan.com