And what, you might well ask, is Minus 8?
At the moment, according to a lot of knowledgeable chefs, it's practically a "magic number' - the one that comes to mind when they think of the best possible vinegar on the market. Minus 8 is a relatively new vinegar, delicious, full-bodied, fruity, shrouded in mystery, and available in only very limited quantities.
This is truly vinegar with depth, and no wonder. From start to finish, the production of this vinegar is managed with tender loving care and an astounding attention to detail.
The Vineyard where the grapes are grown for Minus 8 is located in St. Catherines, Ontario, Canada.
Geographically, the vineyard is located in the Niagara Region (approx 43º N Latitude), which is dubbed "the banana belt" in Ontario because of its prolific agricultural production. This is a cool climate region for grape growing.
Minus 8 wine vinegar is made from grapes that are picked well past normal harvest, in the winter. When the temperature drops to at least -8º C, the grapes can be picked to make the wine for Minus 8 vinegar.
Several varieties of grapes are used for making Minus 8.
- Grapes oxidize on the vine over the autumn & winter adding complexity to the flavour of the juice.
- Grapes dehydrate, also concentrating the sugars, acids & flavours in the grape.
- The grapes are all netted to keep birds and animals from eating them.
- When at least -8ºC the water component of the juice begins to turn into ice inside the fruit, leaving the acid, sugars & flavours in liquid form to be pressed out.
- The grapes are hand picked, usually at night when the temperature is lowest. The lower the temperature, the more concentrated the juice.
- The grapes are immediately pressed at freezing temperatures to extract the purest juice. If the grapes were allowed to thaw the whole process would be wasted.
Like any wine, quality begins in the vineyard. Depending on the variety of grape, growing techniques, and the harvest / pressing temperature and method, the juice will have a certain sugar level, ph, and taste. The juice is very sweet, thick, and delicious!
For Minus 8 Wine Vinegar, the next step in the process is to make wine from the juice. Many different varieties of grape have been harvested for Minus 8, both red and white. The winemaker blends the varieties according to his tastes to create the base wine for Minus 8 vinegar. Wine making with this special juice takes 6 to 9 months.
Once the wine is finished, the vinegar can get started.
Minus 8 Wine Vinegar is the result of traditional bacterial fermentation of a finished wine. Vinegar is made by a bacterial fermentation of alcohol, producing acetic acid. The selection of bacteria is very important - different types will produce different effects (the same with yeasts and wine making). The bacteria for Minus 8 is in the form of what is called a "mother" (i.e. a big purple floating blob of gelatinous mass, which is why some people call it the "mother-in-law"). This mother was developed by the vinegar / wine maker, and it is used year after year, from batch to batch like a sourdough starter for bread. The fermentation process is very lengthy, and contrary to the saying that vinegar is just wine that's gone bad, requires a great deal of care and attention.
Minus 8 is aged several years before release, partially in French Oak. It is blended, in a similar way to that in which sherry is blended in a solera system. The first vintage of vinegar is 1997. Each subsequent vintage is aged separately. When ready, a portion of each vintage is blended for the bottling of the final product, which is Minus 8. A portion of each vintage is reserved for blending in future years. This brings complexity of flavour and depth of age to the process. Allowing for taste differences due to individual vintages, this system provides for consistency of Minus 8 from year to year.
Minus 8 is bottled in glass, and sealed with cork and wax. It will age for many, many years. Store it upright, in wine cellar conditions.
How does Minus 8 Wine Vinegar differ from other vinegar such as balsamic?
- Balsamic is made from fermented boiled grape must; Minus 8 is made from finished wine.
- Different grape varieties
- The viscosity of Minus 8 is due to natural oxidization, freezing, & aging. Balsamics viscosity is due to boiling and aging.
- Acid components - Minus 8 contains a high residual amount of tartaric acid (naturally occurring grape acid), due to cool climate grape growing, and grape variety. As tartaric acid is not volatile like acetic acid, this makes Minus 8 unique for reduction and finishing in culinary use.
- Minus 8 differs from flavored or infused vinegars. In these types of vinegar, fruits, honey, spices, wines or alcohol etc, have been added to the vinegar.
- Traditional fermentation takes several months and develops the most complex flavor profile. Modern fermentation equipment, such as vinegar processing units for fast/high volume fermentation is not used in the making of Minus 8.
- Who makes it? The grape grower, winemaker, and vinegar maker are all one and the same. Minus 8 is totally unique and is not made anywhere else.
- What grapes are in Minus 8? The exact composition is a well kept secret. A good nose can discern several varieties; some hints lie in Alsace & Germany. There are 8 main types of grape; both red & white are used.
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