The woodsy yet vibrant taste of sherry vinegar makes it such a standout that it just might become your favorite everyday vinegar.
Published May 1, 2016. Appears in America's Test Kitchen TV Season 21: French-Inspired Comfort Food
In the test kitchen, when we need a wine vinegar, we’ve generally turned to the red or white varieties. That’s because the third big category of wine vinegar—sherry vinegar—has been far less widely available in supermarkets. Given that it’s a Spanish condiment, we’ve mainly restricted ourselves to calling for it in Spanish recipes like gazpacho, romesco sauce, or Catalan beef stew.
But when we noticed that sherry vinegar is now appearing not just in specialty stores but also in many ordinary supermarkets, we were thrilled. We are big fans of its nutty, oaky, savory flavors and decided it was time to find a favorite that we could use not just in Spanish dishes but in applications across the board.
First, a little background on this interesting ingredient: As its name suggests, sherry vinegar (vinagre de Jerez) starts with sherry wine, a white wine aged in oak barrels and traditionally fortified with brandy, which has been made in southern Spain for centuries. The transformation of sherry into vinegar begins with the same process as red and white wine vinegars—the sherry is first acetified to convert its alcohol to acetic acid. (These days, and for all types of vinegars, this is generally done quickly and cheaply in an acetator that exposes the wine to oxygen, rather than the traditional way of inoculating the wine with an acetic acid “mother” bacteria from an established vinegar and allowing the vinegar to convert slowly in wooden barrels.) But unlike red and white wine vinegars, which are typically stored in stainless-steel tanks until bottling, sherry vinegar then undergoes a process of aging and blending known as a “solera” system. Here barrels of sherry vinegar of different ages are blended over time to create an end product that is a combination of young vinegar and old vinegar—a process that is also used to make the sherry wine.
Furthermore, sherry vinegars that bear the Denominación de Origen Protegida (or DOP) seal must start with drinking-quality sherry made from one of three grape varieties grown in Andalusia and be aged at least 6 months in the solera. Two other DOP classifications exist: Vinagre de Jerez Reserva and Gran Reserva, which must have been aged at least two years and 10 years, respectively. With this information under our belt, we gathered nine products from different sources. Most we purchased from conventional supermarkets, but we also included a few vinegars from specialty stores and online. The majority were Spanish imports bearing the DOP seal; one was a domestically produced outlier from California. Some were aged for just six months, others for decades—including one 30-year vinegar and another v...
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Kate is a deputy editor for ATK Reviews. She's a culinary school graduate and former line cook and cheesemonger.