Sunday, May 5, 2013

Visit leads to new appreciation for vinegar

Having visitors is always a good excuse for going exploring. After a wonderful lunch at the beachside restaurant O Sole Mio just north of Banyuls, and a bottle of pale pink rose like only the French produce, we went in search of La Guinelle, the vinaigrerie artisanale.

After winding along the road up in the hills just north of the restaurant, we found our vinegar maker. What a beautiful setting, with vines coming down the mountainside to a little stream. After introductions, Nathalie, the owner and a lady who is passionate about what she does, showed us just how the different vinegars are produced.

The vinegars at La Guinelle, using only biological means, are made from aromatic, sweet wine that is produced without the addition of sulfites. The vinegar is first stored in French oak  barrels, which sit in the sun for 18 months. Each barrel has a hole cut in the top covered by a cloth. This lets natural bacteria cement the vinegar. After this time the vinegar sits it demijohns that are sealed so that the fermentation process does not continue - if it did the wine that turned into vinegar would eventually turn into water. I never really understood the wine to water analogy as well before today's visit.

The balsamic wines were aged in barrels for five years or longer. These vinegars were combined with the mother vinegar and eventually moved into smaller barrels before they were finally bottled. Each vinegar can be used with different foods.

And now it was time for us to taste the vinegars produced by Nathalie. First we tasted the little red vinegar pearls that explod in your mouth with a very pleasing taste. We now know that these are very good on smoked salmon. This was followed by the red wine vinegar that had a real hint of hazelnut. Next was the white vinegar made from grey granache grapes that had a citrusy flavour. Then we tried a vinegar that had cinnamon and cloves added to it and another that had saffron spikes added. The last vinegar we tasted was the balsamic, which really tasted of honey. This can be used on fruits as well as salads.

It was a lovely visit during which we learned a lot about vinegar. The fascinating thing was how the different vinegars did have really different tastes. Needless to say we bought some of La Guinelle's vinegars. What a lovely visit.

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