There is an old saying amongst winemakers: “If you know how to make wine - you’ll know how to make vinegar.” Maybe that’s why, now days, pretty much all the vinegars are made in vineyards. And for the same reason most wine vinegars come from Spain, Italy, France or California.
Even though anybody can make wine vinegar at home, making a good quality vinegar requires tons of skill, patience, and most importantly top notch ingredients.
The three main components of a higher quality vinegar are: supreme raw materials (clean water, good grapes etc.), high concentration of acetic acids (for better fermentation), and proper storage. It’s a well-known fact that high quality vinegars can age in a wooden barrel for up to two years for wine vinegars, and much more for balsamic vinegars.
The fastest way to determine the quality of a vinegar is to smell it. A good quality vinegar will have a clean smell of its raw material. So, a wine vinegar should have a sharp, sweet, wine smell. Sherry vinegar must have that sweet, fruity aroma; apple cider a sour, lingering smell of a ripe apple. You get the idea.
What should be in the ingredient list?
Ideally there should be only one ingredient - vinegar. In some cases the producer will add the must of a grape to sweeten the vinegar or stabilizers for preservation. But the general rule is the simpler the better.
A big question around wine vinegars is the sulphites. Sulphites are produced naturally during fermentation, but it’s not uncommon for the producer to add chemical sulphites to regulate the fermentation process. Even though only 1% of the population is allergic to sulphites, somehow it became public enemy number one. The producers will usually identify that their product doesn’t contain added sulphites.
Another question that pops up all the time is the acidity percentage. Acidity means how many grams of acid is in 100 ml. of a vinegar. For a wine vinegar it should be 4-7%. Lower acidity means less sourness in the taste.
What wine vinegar should I use?
Here is a rule of thumb, ask yourself what type of wine do you want to drink with this dish?
White vinegar is lighter and more delicate, which means it won’t pair well with big dishes like red meat. It works great on fish, delicate salads and for deglazing pans to make a buttery pan sauce or marinating poultry.
Red wine vinegar is great to tender or marinate red meats, mix into lentils or soups; dress an Italian salad or an appetizer with a cheese component.
Apple cider vinegar is great for sauces and dips. It also works well in chutneys.
Pro tip: make sure to spread vinegar equally. So, avoid pouring it straight from a bottle, use a spout or a measuring spoon instead.
Make the easiest salad dressing at home with this recipe:
Whisk a tablespoon of vinegar with two tablespoons of olive oil. Add a pinch of salt and pepper. Mix well. If you have shallots, garlic or any other fresh herb - add it. Let it sit for 5-10 min., whisk once again and drizzle on your salad. You’ll never want a store-bought salad dressing ever again!