When you start to explore that part of southern France that is within sight of the mighty Pyrenees mountains there are many treasures to happen upon.
Remember that this is Catalan country on both sides of the border. Many people here, both French and Spanish, identify as Catalan first.
It’s an area of rugged beauty whether you look towards the Mediterranean or towards the mountains.
It was here that Nathalie Lefort found a small house surrounded by olive groves and vineyards outside the town of Cosprons which lies about half way between the beautiful coastal towns of Collioure and Banyuls-sur-Mer.
La Guinelle: A recent visit
We were lucky enough to be able to visit Nathalie at her home and production centre on a balmy Spring day. With clear sunshine and no rain it was perfect for exploring her operation. It was also perfect for sitting afterwards at an outdoor table in Banyuls-sur-Mer for a very pleasant lunch.
The drive to La Guinelle was uneventful despite some very narrow roads that we traversed through vineyards outside Cosprons. We eventually found the following sign welcoming us to La Guinelle.
We parked the car and walked towards the Vinaigrerie to be greeted with the sight of dozens of barrels under shade and vineyards in the background.
Each barrel has a relatively large, covered opening which allows the beneficial, natural bacteria to enter the barrel and carry out their fermentation magic.
Once the fermentation is complete and the vinegar has gained the benefit of the time in barrel, the vinegar is transferred to glass demijohns and placed in the sunshine as shown below.
The purpose of the time in demijohns is to clarify and stabilise the vinegar and is a technique used by Catalans for wine as well. Our friends at Jolly Ferriol, who have a deep understanding of historic Catalan traditions, always matured their very old solera sweet wines in glass demijohns which were stored outside in the sun.
As you leave this magic place you can swing by the small sales area to buy some vinegar or other paraphernalia.
We have just received our next shipment of this precious vinegar all made from wine produced by friends of Nathalie. As the time draws closer we will post on this page information about the specific vinegars we will have available.
La Guinelle Vinegars 2021
After 23 years Nathalie Lefort has retired. We are very lucky that in February this year she sold La
Guinelle to Chandra Brune, a young woman who had worked with her for many years. We
tasted Chandra’s first vinegars in September and they were wonderful so we’re confident that
La Guinelle has a long and exciting future. The current shipment that we are selling is vinegar that Chandra has created!
The following are the vinegars we received from Nathalie in 2021. Each of the vinegars spends at least 9 months in open wooden barrels with the opening covered by a coloured cloth. This allows beneficial bacteria to access the wine and weave their magic in creating the vinegar. Nathalie refers to this process as being conducted “en plein air” a phrase you can see on the labels.
Once the vinegar has spent sufficient time “en plein air” it is transferred to clear glass demijohns as shown in the photos above and placed out in the sunshine to clarify and stabilise. After a few months in the sun it is then bottled for distribution.
Essentially all of the vinegars below go through the same process to create the vinegar, however they differ widely in their taste profiles due to the differences in the underlying wines that were used to create them.
La Guinelle Vinaigre de Banyuls 50 cl
This lovely red vinegar is mainly made from Grenache Noir. It is typical of the Banyuls vinegar appellation.
La Guinelle Vinaigre Banyuls Grand Cru 25 cl
This is the ultimate in natural vinegars! This is the the creme-de-la-creme of the Banyuls vinegar appellation.
It has been aged in oak barrels that are open to the air allowing the wine to turn into vinegar unde ra veil of yeast which forms on the surface of the vinegar.
When the vinegar has developed to a certain point it is exposed to the sun for some weeks after being transferred to glass jars called carboys or demijohns, prior to being bottled.
The vinegar is created through the acetic transformation of the prestigious and famous Banyuls wine. It is mainly made using juice from Grenache grapes.
La Guinelle Vinaigre de Banyuls Blanc 25 cl
This vinegar is a classic vinegar of the Banyuls vinegar appellation. It is a mixture of Grenache Blanc and Grenache Gris.
RRP: $25 (SOLD OUT)
La Guinelle Vinaigre de Mauzac La Famille Plageoles 50 cl
The Mauzac vinegar was made from a wine made by the Plageoles family in Gaillac. They work closely with Patrice Lescarret from Causse Marines in preserving the ancient Gaillac grape varieties. Mauzac is a white grape variety often used in the traditional sparkling wines of the Gaillac region. This vinegar was made from a wine that spent 5 years “under the veil” which has increased the complexity of the vinegar substantially. When we visited Nathalie we were able to see this vinegar being created and the vinegar was also under a veil!
RRP: $34 (SOLD OUT)
La Guinelle Vinaigre de Chenin Lise et Bertrand Jousset 50 cl
Lise and Bertrand Jousset live and make wines in the village of Montlouis-Sur-Loire which is on the southern side of the Loire River not too far from the city of Tours. When we are staying in Tours to see our winemakers from that region such as the Robinot family, the Carême family in nearby Vouvray and Hervé Villemade in Cheverny, we often drop out to Montlouis for a late afternoon drink at the Jousset’s delightful bar and café which operates out of their winery complex. This vinegar has been made from a batch of Chenin Blanc that they made.
RRP: $35 (SOLD OUT)
La Guinelle Vinaigre de Savagnin Bornard 25 cl
This is the second time that Nathalie has made vinegar from a wine made by the Bornard family. In this case it is made from the revered Savagnin grape to produce a vinegar of great complexity.
RRP: $27 (SOLD OUT)
La Guinelle Vinaigre de Malidea de Iuli 50 cl
This time Nathalie has crossed the border into Piedmont in Italy (the region centered on Torino) to source a wine made from the Nebbiolo grape variety.
The result is a smooth, charming vinegar with lots of character.
This vinegar has a range of applications including dressing salads and, for us, forming the base of an interesting drink when topped with soda water or similar.
We also like to add a splash to long cooked meats such as pork or lamb braises.
La Guinelle Vinaigre de Vieux Banyuls 50 cl
This is a wonderful example of a true Banyuls red vinegar made from 100% Grenache Noir made from wine that is over ten years old! The wine is made from grapes grown on the vertiginous hills in behind Banyuls sur Mer and Port Vendres. This vinegar has many uses especially to brighten up a tomato salad in peak tomato season.
La Guinelle Vinaigre Vermeil 50 cl
This is a very special vinegar which is also made from Grenache. It underwent the same barrel treatment as all the others – being exposed to the air in barrels with a cloth covering the top and allowing oxygen to play its role.
When the vinegar is transferred to the large glass jars for exposure to the sun, cinnamon and cloves are tied in a muslin pouch into the neck of the jar.
When exposed to the sun some of the liquid evaporates and rises through the spices in the neck of the glass jar before falling back into the liquid thus subtly scenting it with the spice flavours.
This is yet another reason why we got so excited about these vinegars when we first experienced them. They are not only pure due to sprays not being used on the grapes that were used to create the wine in the first place, but every process used to make the natural vinegar is special and in this case the addition of the spices is subtle and precise.
La Guinelle Vinaigre de Muscat 25 cl
This is a white vinegar made from a wine that, in turn, was made using 100% Muscat à Petit Grains. The end result is a double fermented vinegar (one for the wine and then another bacterial fermentation for the vinegar) that has both the sweetness of the underlying wine while still having pronounced minerality from the wine.
The flavour of the vinegar is slowly developed by the painstaking processes used by Nathalie to make the product. It is exposed to air for the entire time it is in barrel and this ensures that the good bacteria can do their work.
The flavour then is rounded out by the time that it spends in glass demijohns in the sunlight – a traditional Roussillon approach for making their great sweet wines.
This vinegar enhances an otherwise savoury salad by adding a touch of sweetness at the end of the palate.
RRP: $31 (SOLD OUT)