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The Best Sherry Vinegar
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
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What You Need To Know
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...
Everything We Tested
Our slightly sweet winner had “just the right amount of tang” and boasted flavors ranging from “lemony” to “smoky.” In gazpacho, it added “nice depth” that highlighted the fresh flavors.
With a sweet boost from apricot wine vinegar, this “rich,” “smooth” vinegar contributed fruity depth to the vinaigrette and gazpacho, where the tomato flavor was “prominent” and “bright.”
This pricey vinegar’s “rich,” “dark” flavors made for an “earthy” but “vibrant” dressing and rounded out the soup with a “nice, easy finish.”
In both applications, this vinegar delivered “nice kick” but offered a “smooth” finish and “fruitiness” that kept it from being too sharp or acidic.
Though “sharper” and more “bracing” than its pricier older sibling, this vinegar’s “woody,” “spicy, complex” notes were especially nice in vinaigrette.
With “just enough tartness,” this vinegar allowed the soup’s tomato flavor to “come through” and made for a “bright” vinaigrette, even if the complexity was lacking a bit.
Recommended with reservations
Some tasters enjoyed the “punchy vinaigrette” made with this vinegar; others found its “bracing acidity” too strong. It fared best in gazpacho, where it was “tangy and very bright” but not overly so.
Even tasted plain, this vinegar was surprisingly mellow. It remained steadfastly “in the middle of the pack” in both applications, where tasters expected more vibrancy and complexity.
Though plagued by the aroma of “acetone” and “cheap alcohol” when tasted plain, this vinegar’s flaws (likely due to an excess of the compound ethyl acetate) weren’t noticeable once it was added to the dressing and soup. Generally, it fared best among those who liked a “punchy” vinegar.
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The mission of America’s Test Kitchen Reviews is to find the best equipment and ingredients for the home cook through rigorous, hands-on testing.
Kate is a deputy editor for ATK Reviews. She's a culinary school graduate and former line cook and cheesemonger.