Sherry Vinegar vs Sherry Cooking Wine: 5 Main Differences

Picture this: you are in the kitchen, ready to work on your meal, and your recipe calls for some sherry vinegar. The thing is, you have nothing but sherry cooking wine at home. Can you still use it?

The difference between sherry cooking wine and sherry vinegar is a crucial one to nail down, as many people out there still confuse the two things.

Fear not, here is a comprehensive list of the differences between these two amazing cooking ingredients. 

What is Sherry cooking wine?

Sherry cooking wine is a variety of white wine that has its origins in Spain. It is a very popular fortified, cooking wine and its versatility has helped it gain its popularity.

To be able to be called sherry, this wine has to be made from white grapes that originated in the Sherry Triangle, in the southern part of Spain, west of Gibraltar: Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and El Puerto de Santa María.

Although it fits in the white wine category, its alcohol content is higher than any other average white wine.

In fact, its alcohol percentage goes from 14 percent to 17 percent, while an average white wine fluctuates between 10 percent and 13 percent.

This happens because sherry wine is fortified after the fermentation process is over. It means that a distilled spirit, normally brandy, is added to sherry wine to make it taste stronger.

Sherry cooking wine is slightly lower quality than normal sherry drinking wine, but either one of them can be used during the preparation of your meals.

This cooking wine has a little extra salt added to it, but this tiny difference with sherry drinking wine will not alter the taste and texture of your recipe.

Sherry cooking wine does not require to be stored in the fridge, although it might help it live a little bit longer. But generally, it possesses an extended life even if it is stored on a shelf, on the counter, or in a cupboard. 

What is Sherry vinegar?

Like any other kind of vinegar that typically derives from wine, sherry vinegar is derived from sherry wine. Its origin immediately gives a key difference away.

Turning sherry wine into sherry vinegar is quite a straightforward chemical process. The wine has to ferment, and this process happens thanks to bacteria that live inside the wine.

The bacteria gradually turn the sherry wine into acetic acid, making the liquid more acidic, therefore, shifting it into vinegar.

Sherry vinegar also has its origins in the Sherry Triangle, in the southern part of Spain. And just like the wine, it is categorized according to how good the grapes used in the process are, and how its maturing process is.

There are the basic varieties of sherry vinegar, with a 6 months minimum aging; those that age for two or more years in wood; and there is the finest category of sherry vinegar, those that aged in wood for a minimum of ten years. 

What is the difference between Sherry vinegar and Sherry cooking wine?

The first, important difference is given to us by their names. Sherry wine and sherry vinegar might have the same origins, but they grow up to be quite different things.

They can both be employed in the kitchen as cooking ingredients to add extra flavor to your dishes. But it all depends on the ultimate result you want to achieve.

A fine, aged sherry vinegar might taste a little stronger, more flavorful, and definitely more acidic than simple sherry wine.

The harvest and the fermentation process are exactly the same. Nothing changed in the making of sherry cooking wine and sherry vinegar.

Things start to change after the fermentation process. This is when the crucial step towards one or the other happens. But let’s start from the top!

1. Grapes

As already mentioned above, sherry cooking wine (and sherry wine in general) is produced from white grapes grown in the south of Spain.

By law, only three varieties of grapes can be used to produce this wine:

  • Palomino
  • Pedro Ximénez
  • Moscatel

These varieties of grapes find a comfortable and fertile environment in the Sherry Triangle, in Andalusia, where they grow.

High-quality grapes are destined to refine, high-end sherry drinking wines, while the lower quality grapes are used to make sherry cooking wine.

The diverse qualities of grapes are treated separately in the pressing process. High-quality white grapes are only pressed once. After all the liquid is taken and stored carefully, the process for lower-quality sherry wine (and vinegar) begins.

These grapes are pressed until the quality does not meet the wine drinking standards anymore. This is when the production of sherry vinegar starts. Low-quality grapes are pressed even further, and the result is stored to be turned into vinegar.

The higher-quality grapes must ferment from two to three times before being able to be called sherry wine.

As a result, although the variety of grapes is still the same, sherry cooking wine differs from sherry vinegar for the quality of those grapes.

Marginally better quality grapes are used for the sherry cooking wine, while the lowest quality ones are selected to produce its vinegar. 

2. Fortifying 

After fermenting in wooden barrels, the different batches of liquids originating from the pressing process are ready to be classified into various categories:

  1. The first batch is destined to be the most exquisite wine of the harvest. It is going to be bottled and distributed around the world as a fine, high-end Spanish sherry drinking wine.
  2. A second batch is going to be an average sherry drinking wine. It is good quality, but not as full-bodied and flavorful as the first batch.
  3. The third batch is a wild card. It could ferment to become a low-quality wine, most likely a sherry cooking wine, or it could be destined to become sherry vinegar.
  4. To conclude, the fourth batch is the most low-quality product produced. It has been pressed more than once, and the process lowered, even more, its quality.

This last batch will be destined to become sherry vinegar, therefore it will not go through the fortifying process after its fermentation.

The fortifying process is only reserved for the first three batches.

What is fortifying, though? It is the process of adding distilled spirit to the wine, to increase the alcoholic percentage.

Distilled spirit is typically used as brandy. This liqueur adds an extra kick and a fantastic boost in flavor. On top of that, salt is added to the sherry wine destined to become cooking wine.

The fourth batch is left untouched and it is left to age in a wooden barrel from six months up to ten years before it can be bottled and distributed as sherry vinegar.

So, like any other type of wine, sherry cooking wine contains a percentage of alcohol, while vinegar does not, as it has evaporated in the process.

3. Ageing

Sherry wine is aged in wooden American barrels. The system used to age this wine is called the Solera system.

It is an extremely complex method of aging and subsequently bottling used in the region for years and years. It involves groups of wooden barrels positioned in layers where each layer matches a corresponding year.

When bottled, the old wine is mixed with part of the youngest wine, and the missing portion in the youngest wine is replaced by mixing it with a portion of the oldest wine, and so on.

This complicated and rather confusing system allows sherry wine to provide hints of freshness thanks to the young wine, mixed with the full growth and readiness of the old one.

Sherry vinegar also needs aging but the process is a little bit different:

  1. To achieve what is known as Vinagre de Jerez, sherry vinegar has to age for a minimum of six months in wooden barrels.
  2. If you want to be able to call a Sherry vinegar Reserva, it has to age in wooden barrels for about two years.
  3. When the vinegar presents itself as Gran Reserva, it means that it has aged in wooden barrels for ten years, or longer.

The longer your sherry vinegar stays in the wooden barrels, the more it will acquire that specific wooden scent and flavor that provides its peculiar taste and smell.

4. Benefits 

Sherry cooking wine and sherry vinegar possess incredibly unique nutritional values. Therefore, they are capable of offering vastly distinct benefits to their consumers.

Surprisingly enough, sherry wine is packed with antioxidants, making it relatively good for you (if consumed responsibly within the limits).

The downside is that it is relatively high in sodium and sugars. Most of them are inherited from natural factors, like the sugar and sodium already inside the grapes. But it is still more cautious to stay within the healthy drinking range.

Sherry vinegar retains all the benefits of any other vinegar out there, if not more!

It is low in cholesterol, and it is able to keep the blood lipid and blood sugar under control. And just like apple cider vinegar, its calorie count is incredibly close to zero. 

5. Cooking

Sherry cooking wine can be used in an extremely broad variety of recipes. It can go from meat to seafood to vegetable dishes, as it fits incredibly well wherever it goes.

It can be added to any other recipes that require white wine, and there are quite a few different ones to choose from: from a floral sherry wine to a bottle of extra-dry sherry wine.

Sherry vinegar uses can be incredibly varied as well. It can be added as a condiment to salads and other cold food. Or it can be used to make delicious vinaigrettes if mixed with honey and mustard, or even with shallots.

Another way to use sherry vinegar is like a glaze. Reduce it on the stove at low heat and use the glaze at the bottom of the pan to accompany any meat dish, like a lamb, pork, or even duck, and your veggie options too.

Although it is a little sour, like every single type of vinegar out there, the sherry vinegar taste will not overpower or completely change the essence of your food.

Are Sherry cooking wine and Sherry vinegar the same?

Short answer: no. Although they might have the same initial process, from the harvest all the way to fermentation and an incredibly similar aging process, they are not the same thing.

Sherry cooking wine is an alcoholic beverage. It might be suitable for cooking and perfect in your recipes, however, it still contains a percentage of alcohol.

If it is kept open for a remarkably extended period of time, it might lose its alcoholic content and it might turn sour and bitter.

That sort of homemade fermentation provides you with a similar alternative to sherry vinegar, thanks to its numerous similarities.

Sherry vinegar does not contain any alcohol. It is produced like most kinds of vinegar and unlike sherry wine, it does not contain any added salt.

Sherry cooking wine is sweeter than sherry vinegar, which retains a typical pungent taste. They will give distinctive and peculiar notes and flavors to your dishes. 

It is important to know what twist you want to give to your recipe in order to choose wisely between sherry cooking wine and sherry vinegar

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