“It’s not vinegar,” Kevin Connors, the importer of Merlot Vinegar said.
“It’s a technical thing. Its acidity is lower than 6% and in Spain anything less needs a different designation.” Thus the term “agrodolce” on the label. The basic translation is ‘sweet/sour,’ a perfect flavor description.
It’s made by Castell de Gardeny, a fifth generation family run company that’s been around since 1908. They use the Shützenbach fermentation method to make this vinegar. Developed in the early 1800s, the system consists of a large tank with three different stages inside.
Wine fills a stainless steel vat till it’s about a quarter full. The wine is pumped to the top section of the tank where it’s dispersed by a turning paddle…essentially ‘raining’ the wine down into the middle section of the vat. This section is filled with balls (like large ball bearings) that don’t chemically react with the wine at all, but rather create a large amount of surface area for the wine to spread over. On the side of the vat, two stacks slowly seep oxygen into the middle section giving the bacteria the opportunity to grow and spread and encourage the conversion of wine into vinegar. The exposed wine flows down to the bottom section and then circulates to the top, where the process begins again.
It’s not a fast method (the process continues for at least ten days), but it captures the true flavors and aromas of the wine better than any other method. Finally, a little bit of the wine and grape must is added back to mix and it’s all aged in French oak barrels for twelve months. The extra aging softens its flavors resulting in a well-balanced sweet and sour experience.
It’s bright and lively, with a smooth sweetness in the finish. Great for marinades, drizzled over fish or roasted vegetables and of course, vinaigrettes. Try this one in place of balsamic. It’s not quite as sweet and musty as balsamic, but the end result is similar and really delicious.