ask dr. vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, or "Vinny" for short. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the technical aspects of winemaking to the fine points of etiquette. I hope you find my answers educational and even amusing. Looking for a particular answer? Check my archive and my FAQs.


Dear Dr. Vinny,

I have a backward question: I want to make wine from vinegar. Specifically, I fell in love with the complex flavor of Chinese black vinegar when in China recently and think it would make an amazing base for a wine. I'm an experienced beer brewer and intermediate wine maker (and I've made my own wine vinegar), and I realize that what I'm asking is highly unusual. However, I can't be the first person to taste a complex balsamic or black or other type of vinegar and consider drinking it! Help?

—Crystal, Erie, Mich.

Dear Crystal,

I’ve been hearing more about drinking vinegars—some people are either drinking them straight, others are mixing them with 3 or 4 parts water, fruit juice, or carbonated water. I’ve also heard about cocktails that take advance of some of these vinegars, mixing in Sherry, rum or whisky. And then there are sweetened vinegar-based beverages called “shrubs,” which are a fun way to preserve fruit by mixing it with sugar and vinegar. Shrubs can be the base for some delicious-sounding cocktails. I’ve even seen a recipe for grape shrubs, which sound up your alley.

But to answer your question about whether you can take Chinese black vinegar and turn it into wine? No. Chinese black vinegar is made from fermented grain—millet, sorghum or black rice. And wine is made from fermented grapes. The two can’t be combined. You can’t take an already fermented product and un-ferment it and then re-ferment it again. If you added wine to black vinegar, if you’re lucky you might turn that wine into vinegar, but you’re not going to get a black-vinegar-based wine. If you added grapes to the vinegar base, I’m not sure what you’d get, except a lot of fruit flies.

If you do some experimenting with these drinking vinegars, perhaps you’ll find a suitable cocktail, even one with wine. Write back and tell me about it. For those who want to make vinegar from leftover wine, you can read about how to do that, and you can also read about why you’re probably never going to try to make balsamic vinegar.

—Dr. Vinny


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