Everyone’s been there. You pull out a bottle of wine for dinner, only to find it’s past its prime.
Even if there’s already plenty of cooking wine in the fridge, don’t dump that bottle down the kitchen sink. Make vinegar instead.
“Unlike store-bought vinegar, which can have an aggressive or sharp vinegar flavor, homemade vinegar has a softer tang to it and more alternative flavors that step forward,” says Toni Dash, a professional writer and blogger at Boulder Locavore.
Here’s a basic guide on how to create vinegar from unwanted wine.
What types of wine can be used for making vinegar?
While many undrinkable wines can still make great vinegar, there are things to consider when picking the right one. First, look for a wine that’s low in sulfur.
Sulfur dioxide is not good for the microbes and bacteria that oxidize the alcohol and convert it to acetic acid, says Jorge Ramirez-Perez, assistant winemaker at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars in Napa, California. Acetic acid gives vinegar its distinctive taste and aroma.
“If someone is using any open bottle of wine that was not tasty to them, just leave the wine open for a couple of days to allow any sulfur dioxide to dissipate,” says Perez.
Dash recommends low-sulfite or sulfite-free wine. Red wines may work better than white wines because they tend to receive lower additions of sulfites in the winemaking process.
Although the microbes need some alcohol to convert to acetic acid, too much will kill them off. Perez recommends a wine with an alcohol content of 12% or less.
Can faulted or flawed wine be used for vinegar?
There are only a few faulted wines that can be used for vinegar. Wines with hints of volatile acidity aren’t a problem because it’s typically caused by acetic acid.
Wine with some Brettanomyces can be used to make vinegar.
“The bacteria will produce more volatile aromas that overpower any Brett characteristics the wine may have,” says Perez. “This also will carry over in the taste, since it is going to be very acidic.”
“Any major faults in the wine may still stand out in the vinegar if not hidden by the acetic acid aroma or acid taste,” says Dr. Anita Oberholster, cooperative extension specialist in enology at the Department of Viticulture and Enology at the University of California-Davis. “I follow the same rules for cooking with wine. Do not use faulty wine for cooking. You will just make bad-tasting food.”
How do you make vinegar from wine?
Turning wine into vinegar requires a collection of microbes called a mother vinegar.
There are different mothers from wine, cider and other kinds of vinegar. Dash advises to buy one that’s specific to the type of vinegar you’d like to make.
While it’s possible to make a mother vinegar, it can take several weeks. If you can’t find a local vinegar maker willing to share theirs, it may be easier to buy one from a natural food store, fermentation store or online.
Combine the mother, 16 ounces of wine and 8 ounces of water in a sterilized glass or ceramic jar. Don’t use plastic, as the acid will react with it. Dash uses glass because it’s easier to see if something is going wrong with the vinegar and correct any problems.
Cover the jar with several layers of cheesecloth. Store it in a dark spot with good air circulation and a temperature between 70–80 °F.
“Feed the mother regularly,” says Dash. “Adding wine throughout the process ensures a new supply of wine for the vinegar conversion.”
Try not to move the jar, which disturbs the mother vinegar while at work.
It can take several months for the vinegar to be ready. For more details on how to make vinegar at home, check out Dash’s tutorial or consult a local university extension service office.
How should you store the vinegar?
The safest method to store homemade wine vinegar is to pasteurize it. Once your vinegar is ready, heat it, pour it into sterilized jars and place them in a hot water bath. Heat the vinegar until it reaches between 140–160°F. Maintain the temperature for 10 minutes.
Cool the jars, cover them and store them in a cool, dark place.