Rozendal Wine Vinegars: 12-Year-Old Biodynamic Masterpieces from South Africa

These are truly one of the best new things I’ve tasted in a long time. I think that I first tried the Rozendal vinegars three years ago at a food show. Their exceptional flavor caught my attention right off, but I think the fact they’re flavored 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 of getting them. Finally, this summer I tasted them for yet a third time with everyone at the Deli and Mail Order, and I was still impressed. I finally gave in. The third time was definitely the charm. I’m glad I finally got going—these are some pretty exceptional bottles of vinegar.

They’re made by the Amman family in Stellenbosch, on the southwest coast of South Africa. Long a grape grower and wine producer, Kurt Amman took the family farm organic in 1994. He went even further by going biodynamic back in 2001. Nothing about these vinegars—the method of conversion from wine, the decision not to pasteurize (to protect the positive acetobacters), many years of patient maturation, the careful selection of herbs and flowers for the infusion into the vinegar—is taken lightly. 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 natural conversion of the Amman’s already well-made and nicely matured biodynamic wines. The move to vinegar is a process that alone takes many months. The 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 another four or five years. The total maturation is about 12 years, all done in oak barrels. The results, as I said, are superb! Imagine maybe a depth and character of a great balsamic; the complexity, the soft, round, sweetness, the long lingering finish are all there in force. They’ve got big, slightly tingly, subtly sweet, fantastic flavors with great complexity and very, very long, very lovely finishes.

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. The flavor is truly phenomenal. 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 again, vanilla.

This post is part of a series of Ari’s Best Foods of 2011.