Where there's wine...there's vinegar. And in the southwest of France, in a small Mediterranean seaside town called Banyuls-sur-Mer, some fine wines are produced. So, it's no wonder that the grapes grown on the region's ancient vines also yield one of the world's finest vinegar: Le Vinaigre de Banyuls. Made from the naturally sweet wine of the region, the grape base for this very small production of "vin doux natural" (no sugar added) is 50% Grenache noir, 40% Grenache gris and 10% Carignane.
From wine to vinegar in 5 years. The wine begins its first year of aging in huge oak "foudres" (barrels) stored in cool cellars. It is then transferred to smaller 60-liter oak barrels and stored outside, where it will spend the next four years. There,exposure to the elements-the hot sun of summer and the cold winds of winter in the Pyrenees-will accelerate the aging process. The progress and quality of the fledgling vinegar is constantly monitored by the resident enoligist. During its fifth year, the new vinegar gets a jump start from an older brother-a 20% solution of Vieux Vinaigre de Banyuls, which inoculates the Banyuls wine and turns it into a full-fledged vinegar. An additional 6 months of aging in cool cellars is still required before it is filtered and bottled under the Le Vinaigre de Banyuls label.
It may be "sour wine" but its taste is delicious. With aromas of walnut, spice cake, beeswax, vanilla, and licorice, Le Vinaigre de Banyuls is a fierce rival to both Italian balsamico and Spanish sherry vinegar. It's distinct nut like qualities make it the perfect companion for vinaigrettes made with hazelnut or walnut oils, as well as high-quality olive oils. And when you're in the mood for something really special, use Le Vinaigre de Banyuls as a marinade for fish or to deglaze the pan after sauteing duck, mushrooms, or even... foie gras.
(The small photo is of the grape harvest from the historic terraces of Banyuls-sur-Mer)
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