Ari’s Annual Culinary Treasure Hunt
“…this stuff is what I’m starting to think should be called “kissing vinegar”- not to make anyone blush, but, truly, kissing anyone who just sipped it would be a pretty sensual experience.” – Ari Weinzweig
Ari Weinzweig writes a bimonthly newsletter – Zingerman’s Newsletter – on food and has published books on olive oil, vinegar and Parmigiano-Reggiano, as well as the more broadly focused Zingerman’s Guide to Good Eating. Rozendal Vinegar was featured in the November/December 2011 issue artilce “Ari’s Annual Culinary Treasure Hunt“.
“I want to start this piece with an apology. I’m sorry that I waited so long to bring these vinegars to the Deli. These amazing vinegars are some of THE best new things to arrive in a long, long time. The story behind them and the flavour of the vinegars in each bottle are both, to my knowledge, unique. Most definitely worth taking notice of more quickly than I did.
I think I first tried the Rozendal vinegars three years ago at a food show. Their exceptional flavour caught my attention right off, but I think the fact they’re flavoured made me doubt myself. I tried them again the next year and was still impressed but…again, I held back and failed to act on my instinct. We have a lot of good vinegars, and I let my purist streak get in the way. Finally, this summer I tasted them for a third time with folks at the Deli and Mail Order, and I was still impressed. I finally gave in. I’m glad I finally got going- these are some pretty exceptional bottles of vinegar.
They’re made by the Ammann family in Stellenbosch on the south west coast of South Africa. Long a grape grower and wine producer, Kurt Ammann took the family farm organic in 1994. He went even further by going biodynamic back in 2001. Nothing in a biodynamic setting is taken for granted, from the method of conversion from wine to deciding not to pasteurize (to protect the positive acetobacters), to spending many years of patient maturation, to carefully selecting herbs and flowers for the infusion into the vinegar. All of which has been translated into a truly spectacular and unique set of vinegars; so good I really could drink these by the shot glass.
The vinegars start with the natural conversion of the Ammann’s already well-made and nicely matured wines. The move to vinegar is a process that alone takes many months. Natural conversion protects the flavors of the wine and also the natural health benefits of the vinegar. The herbs are then added to the vinegar and the infusions are allowed to mature for another four or five years. The total maturation is about 12 years, all done in oak barrels. The results, as I said, are superb! They’re so good that you can- and I have a number of times- sip them straight from the bottle. They’ve got big, slightly tingly, subtly sweet, fantastic flavors with great complexity and very, very long, very lovely, finishes.
The Ammanns are very adamant about the health benefits of raw vinegar like this and draw on centuries of data to back up their claims. Either of the two varieties we have at the Deli would do. The Fynbos Vinegar is infused with an array of the region’s herbs and flower- South African honeybush, buchu, wild olive, wild rosemary, and rose geranium. I’m worried now that I’ve started sipping I might drink the whole bottle. Like sipping a super long-aged bourbon, there’s a loveliness, a long lingering sweetness, vanilla undertones from the oak, a succulence and smoothness….that’s hard to explain. The hibiscus vinegar is equally excellent. It’s got elderflower, rosehip and vanilla. I could go on and on and on (which is what I can honestly say is tru for the finish of the vinegar, too) but space is limited. It’s not inexpensive so this probably isn’t everyday eating but it would be a truly superb gift for anyone who loves food. This is one of the best things I’ve tasted in ten years.
In fact, these vinegars are so good that I think I’m ready to take things a step beyond where they’ve been. They idea of sipping or drinking vinegars has become fairly common in our end of the food world. But this stuff is what I’m starting to think should be called “kissing vinegar”- not to make anyone blush, but, truly, kissing anyone who just sipped it would be a pretty sensual experience.”