Archive for January 1st, 2009

Red Wine Vinegar

There’s a very good reason to make your own red wine vinegar at home: it will be about twice as good as any you can buy, because the wine you put into it will be twice as good as that in commercial vinegars. If you want a more formal process, you can find excellent directions in Paul Bertolli’s book Chez Panisse Cooking. My own more rough-and-ready process goes something like this:
1. Get a large glass jar (anywhere from quart to gallon-size, depending on how much vinegar you want) with a glass lid and rubber sealing gasket. They are widely sold as canisters. Buy enough good red wine to (eventually) fill it. The wine must be good enough that you would thoroughly enjoy drinking a glass of it. The best vinegar I’ve made so far was made with J. Lohr cabernet, which is widely available.
2. Get some vinegar mother. Some winemaking supply stores sell them, but I got mine from a bottle of Bragg cider vinegar, which is available at La Montanita co-op.
3. Add one bottle of wine to the jar, add the mother or about 1/4 cup of the Bragg vinegar, put the lid of the jar someplace where you can find it later, cover the jar loosely with a dish towel held on tightly by a rubber band, and set it in a dark place. Check it every few days. Somewhere between a week and a month later, depending on temperature and other factors, you will notice light grey wispy streaks on the surface of the wine. This is the developing mother.
4. Once the mother starts to grow, you can add more wine, but it has to be done carefully. You want to leave the surface as undisturbed as possible. I use a short length of clear tubing from our local winemaking supply shop, Victor’s Grape Arbor. I put one end of the tubing below the surface of the developing vinegar and use a funnel to pour wine slowly into the tube. That way, wine can be added without drowning the mother. Be sure not to add too much at once. Adding about two cups every week or two works well, until you have filled the jar that you plan to fill. Be sure to fill it right to the top; I’ll go into the reason for this later.
5. When the jar is full, keep it in the dark place and, every week, taste a little with a spoon, being sure to disturb the surface as little as possible. Keep it tightly covered with the dish towel between tastings. When it tastes like vinegar, you’re ready to proceed to step 6. It will still taste sort of rough and raw. Don’t worry.
6. There is no question that wine vinegar needs oak aging to taste its best. If you want to fill an oak cask that’s fine, but it isn’t necessary. Use a wide spoon to carefully remove all the mother and a little of the vinegar under it. Put this in a small jar. Scrape the bottom of your vinegar jar with a slotted spoon to see if a gelatinous substance has formed. This is a submerged part of the mother. If it’s there, add it to your removed mother in a small jar and store in the refrigerator for the next time you want to make vinegar. Now for the oak aging part. At winemaking supply stores you can get small bags of oak chips. Carefully add the oak chips to your vinegar. You will have lost a little volume removing the mother, so the chips should bring it back up to brimming full. Make sure all the chips are wet (Over the next few weeks, they will gradually absorb vinegar and sink to the bottom.) Now put on the lid, not the dish towel, and seal it. Make sure that the vinegar doesn’t touch the gasket when the jar is sitting level. If it does, remove a little vinegar until it doesn’t.
8. Now let the vinegar age in a dark place for as long as you can stand. It gains mellowness with age. Richard Olney says it needs 2-3 years to reach its best, but I’ve never held out that long. In six months it will be very good.
9. When ready to use it, funnel it into empty wine bottles and cork them tightly. At this point you don’t want it exposed to the air any more than necessary. You can store it in the refrigerator if you have room. I usually keep it on the counter.
10. Start to use it. It will make a great vinaigrette dressing, of course, but you’ll find lots of other uses. Click below for some recipes.
click here for recipes