Excerpt from Ari’s Top 5 enews
Exceptional agrodulce vinegar from a 500-year-old family estate
If rare, sweet-sour, super-aged vinegars are your thing, like they are mine, you’ll want to grab a bottle or two of this special new arrival ASAP. It belongs in the same family as long-aged Balsamics from Italy, the lovely PX Sherry Vinegar from southern Spain, the little known but terrific Banyuls from France, and the amazing Rozendaal vinegars from South Africa. Agrodulce Vinegar from the Marqués de Valdueza is a very limited edition. Only 4,211 bottles were produced for the whole year! For context, a large vinegar factory might do that in a single day!
The Marqués de Valdueza is a superb example of what is possible when purveyor relationships are really good! We’ve been getting their splendid olive oil, as well as their wonderful wine vinegar and varietal local honeys, for years now. John Cancilla, longtime lead member of the Valdueza team, along with his wife Ana, have become an integral part of the trips we do with Zingerman’s Food Tours in the Basque Country, Majorca, Andalucia, and now the Canary Islands. Both organizations are much better off from the connection.
While this vinegar will never be Marqués de Valdueza’s biggest-selling product, it is very close to the heart of Fadrique Álvarez de Toledo y Argüelles, the 7th generation to lead the family business. It’s Fadrique’s passion that has powered this project over the last 15 years. The dignity and integrity with which he approaches his work comes through in the quality of the finished vinegar. He could have chosen to purchase raw material from other producers, probably at a far lower cost, but like Massimo Vignelli above, Fadrique has repeatedly “made the decision to pursue quality, even if it was less profitable.” The agrodulce vinegar is made solely with the estate’s own products. Hand-harvested grapes are crushed to produce fresh juice, known in the wine world as “grape must.” The must in this vinegar was started in 2007. It was then slowly reduced down over many years to concentrate the natural sugars and the complex flavors, during which time the wood of the barrels it’s aged in informs the flavor, much as the quality of the soil would impact plants that grow in it.
The other ingredient that is carefully blended with the aged must is the Valdueza’s very fine wine vinegar. Made using the traditional, natural Orleans method, the wine vinegar was begun a decade ago, in 2013. In both cases, the barrels are authentic French oak (not as many now do, with oak chips put inside of other barrels to save time and money) that have been broken in first by the highly regarded Vega Sicilia winery in the Ribera del Duero region. The resulting condiment is compellingly bright, almondy, and aromatic with an amazingly long finish.
What do you do with vinegar this special? John Cancilla has used it on an insalata caprese (he warned me not to tell his Napolitana mother since “No one puts vinegar on a caprese”). He also says it’s great on a traditional salad of salt cod (bacalao) and orange that’s done in the region. Fadrique told me that he adds a bit to gazpacho. He also recommends a few drops on aged cheese. Here in the late autumn in Ann Arbor, it would be wonderful on a Waldorf salad with local heirloom apples and toasted walnuts.
If you know anyone who loves great vinegar, buy a bottle of this very fine vinegar from the Valdueza family for them before it is all gone!