KL Keller Foodways is the exclusive importer of Alvear Pedro Ximénez Dry and Sweet Vinegars, made from the aristocratic and award-winning sherry-style wines of the Alvear estate, vinified from Pedro Ximénez grapes.
Kick back, grab a glass of something nice, and read Kitty's story about how she stumbled upon this great prize:
the brick wall
I first discovered Alvear Pedro Ximénez Vinegars in the year 2000. Prior to that, I had been in Spain and I had tasted a vinegar called a PX. I didn't even know what PX meant, but I really wanted it because it was subtly sweet and delicious and wild and exotic—but that one was already taken. I did business for a while with a large sherry firm that had a small PX thing going, but then they stopped making it. So, twice I'd run up against a brick wall trying to find Pedro Ximénez vinegar.
hamming it up
In the millennial year, I was invited to the Alimentaria—that massive food fair on the edge of Barcelona—and I was walking around with one of our distributors from Minneapolis, Scott Pikovsky, amidst millions of hams: ham, ham, ham, ham, ham, with the occassional chorizo thrown in. Now, as a forager, I'm not always looking at conventional wisdom. Instead, I'm going, "Where can I find what I want?" So I think, "Hm, the guys in the wine tent must have vinegar—for God's sake, they're close enough to the source."
an odd couple
So we go ambling through the wine pavilion asking for vinegar, and everybody looks at us like we're crazy. Mind you, Scott and I are kind of an odd couple, he with his full beard and I—well, let's just say we're just exotic-looking by European standards. We're walking along through this corridor of stares, and all of a sudden we're standing in front of a large booth with a massive banner exclaiming: "ALVEAR PX". Scott and I stop dead in our tracks. We had stumbled upon one of the finest makers of sherry-style wine in history. A young Spanish fella greets us, "Hola!" We answer, "Hey, how ya doin'?" and he walks off. You know, 17 years ago, English was not as universal.
He comes back with a very nice, pretty young woman. "Hi," she says, "Would you guys like to try some wine?'" Scott turns to me apprehensively. I answer, "No, no thank you, but—do you have any vinegar?" This poor lovely woman, she looked like I'd slapped her. We must have been the only Americans that day who said no to free wine. And you have to understand, this was a wine that, in 2011, Robert Parker would name the best PX wine he'd ever had, and give it a 100. I think, "Uh oh Kitty, here we go again!" But she just smiles, walks off and comes back with some Pedro Ximénez Vinegar. And it was extraordinarily delicious.
Now, I often talk about Serendipity being my guiding angel, and this winged seraph of the lucky break was certainly was with us that day: we had fallen upon the most prestigious producer of Pedro Ximénez wine in Spain. The Alvear estate has been owned by the same family since 1729, and they produce their world-famous PX wine in Montilla, just east of Sevilla, where the chalky soil suits the peculiarities of the PX grape. And we weren't just talking to some nice, sunny export person who happened to speak English. We, it turned out, were talking to Maria Alvear, one of the direct descents of the founders, and the cousin of the general manager. And she was their export director.
the mother's mother's mother
That was how we started our partnership with Alvear. And I have to say that even though they had much larger accounts and much larger prospects, we received the same respect and professsionalism as each of those accounts. We started importing the Sweet and the Dry PX Vinegars, and we visited Bodegas Alvear in Montilla. It's a grand property in a hot, austere region with very gently rolling hills and dusty white soil.
At the winery, they've preserved the historic winemaking rooms lined with amphoras (pictured). In the old days, they used to put the wine in these large clay jars because a little oxidation actually helped, a process that dates back to the Phoenicians. Let me tell you, the atmosphere is just magical. In talking to the oenologist and the general manager, Fernando Giménez Alvear, I learned that they started the vinegar because one of the grandmothers liked to use it for her cooking. And it was her mother—her mother of vinegar, that is—that they used to start the process.
the extraordinary "failure"
The tall, very handsome oenologist showed us around the aceteria. I was utterly enchanted by everything, but he was strangely impassive. At one point, I remarked, "You don't seem very excited." He answered solemnly, "Madame, you don't understand. I consider vinegar a failure."
Over our years with Alvear, this perplexing point of view has been the only hiccup. Maria and I have a great relationship. She is easygoing—she received her MBA from Cal—and exudes a profound kindess that makes her beloved in the wine community. But we've had our moments.
For instance, Alvear did some beautiful packaging for the vinegars, and the Sweet PX Vinegar said "10 Years", but the Dry PX Vinegar did not. At one point, I was tasting the Dry and rhapsodizing to Maria, "Oh Gosh, this is just so delicious and we're starting to sell a little more of it," and she answered, "Well, Kitty, it's very good vinegar—it's 10 years old, after all."
I barely managed to respond. "Um ... honey? ... why didn't we put that on the bottle?" And she answered blithely, "Oh, Kitty, we're in the wine business. This is just vinegar!" In the packaging's recent incarnation, you can bet your boots that both the Alvear Sweet PX Vinegar and the Alvear Dry PX Vinegar proudly proclaim "Aged 10 Years" on their labels.