There can be disasters such as the time I baked bread with rancid flour. And there can be delightful surprises—a tin of hot Spanish paprika, unusual vinegars, and specialty olive oils.
It’s summer; vegetables and fruits abound, especially when staying in Sonoma County, CA; so it’s easy to eat healthy, fresh, quick meals of salads. Choosing a variety of oils and vinegars keeps boredom at bay. Luckily, the cabinets here offer a cornucopia of bottles previously unknown to me.
One caught my eye as I hunted for just the right vinegar for a wheat berry and vegetable salad. A bespectacled, mustachioed gentleman in a bow tie looked blindly out from a label on a dark green bottle. It said “Dinny” and “red wine vinegar”. I took a swig. Wow! Powerful, lusty, tangy, delicious. Another lesson in “not judging a book by its cover.”
What was the story behind the modest-looking gentleman on the label and the big-flavored vinegar in the bottle? Thank goodness for back labels. The unfiltered 2008-vintage red wine vinegar was made by UC Davis in honor of a former professor in the university’s Department of Viticulture and Enology. Mr. A. Dinsmoor Webb distinguished himself by his collection of bow ties, his research on wine and grapes, as well as his home production of wine vinegar.
“Dinny” as he was called (and so is the vinegar), started making vinegar in the 1940s from Cabernet Sauvignon grown at the UC Davis Oakville Station in Napa Valley. The vinegar I tasted was made in an old, stone vinegar house that uses the rare and time-consuming Orleans method for producing vinegar. The process involves months-long aging in French oak barrels and results in vinegar with full-bodied, complex flavors.
For olive oil, I discovered a bottle of the UC Davis Centennial Blend Extra-Virgin Olive Oil. UC Davis has been producing olive oil for sale under its own label for just a few years but has been a resource for California’s olive growers and processors for 100 years. Its research and educational programs helped create the state’s thriving, world-class olive oil industry. The bottle I found blended oils from Spanish, Italian, and Greek olive varieties donated by award-winning growers to support the UC Davis Olive Center. Despite being a new kid on the block as an olive oil producer, the UC Davis oils keep winning awards. The Centennial Blend, unless you come across it in a pal’s cabinet, is no longer available but two other olive oils are through the UC Davis Olive Center web site.