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.

Paul Bocuse’s Poulet Vinaigre

I have tried the low-fat version of this recipe that’s going around the web, and personally I wouldn’t bother with it. The real thing is far better. This is a very simple dish and the quality of the ingredients is paramount.
1 chicken cut up, or (my preference) 6 chicken thighs, with bones and skin intact
salt and pepper
12 tablespoons (11/2 sticks) good butter
1/3 cup finely chopped shallots.
1 cup very good red wine vinegar
Rub the chicken pieces with salt and pepper. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large skillet, brown the chicken pieces in 2 tablespoons of butter. Transfer them to a baking pan, skin side up, and bake until done, usually about 35 min but start checking in 30 minutes. While the chicken is roasting, wipe out the skillet and heat again with 2 more tablespoons butter. Saute’ the shallots until cooked and translucent but not colored. Pour in the red wine vinegar and boil hard for 2-3 minutes. Let sit until the chicken is done. When the chicken is ready, heat the vinegar mixture again, put in the remaining 8 tablespoons of butter cut in little chunks, swirl the pan until melted and whisk the butter well into the sauce, then serve the chicken with the vinegar sauce. I like crusty bread or homemade fettucine to absorb the sauce.

Deborah Madison’s Chicken in Red Wine Vinegar

This is very different from the Bocuse recipe, has a lot less butter, and is equally delicious in a different way.

1 large chicken, cut up, back and neck reserved
1 slice onion
2 bay leaves
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup very good aged red wine vinegar
11/2 tablespoons honey
11/2 cups fresh tomato sauce or canned crushed tomatoes (I use my home-canned Roasted Tomato essence. See the “recipes” page of my website,, under “tomatoes”.)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1. Put the chicken back and neck in a saucepan and add water to cover, the onion, and a bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then simmer to make a light stock while you prepare the dish. Rinse the chicken, pat dry, and season with salt and pepper.
2. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and brown, turning it so that both sides color well. Transfer the chicken to a plate and pour off the fat.
3. Return the pan to the heat and gradually pour in the vinegar, scraping the bottom of the pan well. Add the other bay leaf and the honey. Return the chicken to the pot and simmer until the vinegar has reduced enough that there are fine bubbles pebbling the surface, about 20 min. Turn the chicken once or twice as it’s cooking.
4. Strain the stock and measure one cup. Add it to the pan with the tomato sauce, then lower the heat to a simmer, cover the pan, and cook until the chicken is tender, about 25 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a serving platter and whisk the butter into the simmering sauce.Taste for salt. Pour the suce over the chicken and serve with parsley scattered over the top.

3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Cory Cartwright on January 8, 2009 at 1:14 am

    Wow this is excellent stuff. I’m going to try this out and let you know how it works out. Lord knows i go through enough vinegar.


  2. Posted by wooddogs3 on January 8, 2009 at 3:21 am

    Please do keep me posted. I never knew how useful vinegar was until I had a lot of really good stuff around. I have a few moer good recipes which I plan to post when I have some spare time, which should happen within this decade (!).


  3. […] cover with wine vinegar so that your salads next winter will carry that delicious flavor. Your own red wine vinegar is preferable but any good grade of wine vinegar will […]


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