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Dear Dr. Vinny,
How do you make homemade red wine vinegar?
—Tom, Antioch, Calif.
Making vinegar is a great way to use leftover wine! There are two basic ways to make red wine vinegar: you can either purchase a commercial vinegar "mother" (available where wine- and beer-making supplies are sold) and follow the directions given to you, or you can let nature take its course. Personally, I'm a "let nature take its course" kind of wine advice columnist. The first time I tried to make vinegar, I got more flies than anything else. But then I got some good advice and made some really terrific stuff—it really tasted fresh and had more snap than what I buy in stores.
First, find a wide-mouthed jar, jug or crock and pour your wine in until the container is about 2/3 or 3/4 full (a large surface area is good). Higher-alcohol wines can inhibit the activity of the necessary bacteria, so I tend to dilute the wine with a bit of water. If you're a fan of no-added-sulfite wines, even better, as excess sulfites can also make it more difficult to convert alcohol to acetic acid.
Cover the jar, but don't make an airtight seal—some cheesecloth secured with a rubber band would work, or just partially cover it with a lid. Find a place that's out of direct sunlight but still warm. Give the container a good shake once or twice a week. (Be careful not to spill it!) And wait. It will take about two weeks to two months for your wine to turn into vinegar ... or for you to figure out it's not working.
Don't be frightened by your vinegar "mother," which looks like a gooey, gelatinous blob that kind of sits on top of the liquid (it will eventually sink to the bottom and another mother will take its place). As you start siphoning off your new vinegar, you can add fresh wine to the existing vinegar, and you'll notice that within a shorter amount of time—another week or so—it will also have turned to vinegar. Enjoy!
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