by Hunter Fike
There are myriad artisans that strive to establish a reputation of small-production foods of exemplary standing. There are fewer, still, who upon obtaining recognition can increase supply without sacrificing quality. One such producer is Erwin M. Gegenbauer Jr.
The Gegenbauer company was founded in 1929 in Vienna, Austria. For sixty years, they survived producing gherkins and sauerkraut, two staples of Viennese cooking. Due to the high price of bulk vinegar, needed for pickling the gherkins and sauerkraut, Ignaz Gegenbauer began producing vinegar himself. His vinegar was “supermarket quality,” and consequently supermarkets became his only satellite retailers. That is until his grandson, Erwin, inherited the business.
When Erwin took over in 1989, he had already accumulated a vast appreciation of wine, and he used this to innovate the vinegar industry. While most companies purchase wine discarded by vinters for the purpose of creating a product suitable for pickling, cooking or salad dressings, Erwin wanted to see what would happen if he acidified high-quality wine. He also experimented with adding strains of vinegar bacteria to fruit and vegetable juices. His line ranges from ubiquitous (Red Wine, White Wine) to obscure (Granny Smith Apple, Asparagus). Here are two of our favorites:
Noble Sour T (or P.X.): While often referred to as a sipping vinegar, this is not technically a vinegar because the acidity is only 3%, as opposed to the 6% required to be called vinegar. What separates it from the mass market is the grape. The “T” variety is made from the traminer grape, most famous for its contribution to Gewurztraminer. The wine is made using the trockenbeerenauslese method, which results in a viscus, dessert wine rich in residual sugar. The “P.X.” is the Pedro Ximenez varietal, the grape used to make sherry. Because the acidity is low and the wines are sweet, Noble Sour is best enjoyed as an apertif. In Vienna, it is sipped after dinner, before dessert, to both cleanse the palate and aide in digestion.
Muscat-Ottonel Trockenbeerenauslese: Also made from a sweet dessert wine of the Muscat grape, this is officially a vinegar, reaching an acidity of 6%. The resulting taste is rather tart on the tip of the tongue, but finishes with bright, sweet fruit reminiscent of biting directly into the grape. Because of its tartness, it is not to be enjoyed straight (although the iron-stomached might disagree). It is delicious mixed into carbonated water, but is more commonly used to marinate raw fish, fruits and vegetables. The official website suggest deglazing a pan of crispy fish skin and then allowing it to reduce with a dollop of butter. We like it in ceviche.
The line of Gegenbauer are so extensive, there is certainly one, or more, for everyone. And, like everything else in the store, there are samples available, so stop by and ask for a taste.