January – Homemade Red Wine Vinegar

January – Homemade Red Wine Vinegar

Did you know you can easily make your own vinegar from any partial bottles of red wine sitting around? Amazing red wine vinegar at a fraction of the price of those imported ones at the gourmet store, and just as good.

In fact, I think homemade red wine vinegar is miles better than the best commercial brand, and only takes a little patience on your part. As well, it a a “live food”, fermented by you. If you have leftover bottles of red wine after pouring a glass or two from the bottle (the wine really isn’t much good after a couple of days whatever method you use to preserve it), this is the way to reduce your waste and get something delicious from your kitchen. Not to mention the cost savings.

My initial crock of vinegar started because of the win of an “instant wine cellar” at an auction and benefit about 4 years ago. I won 100 bottles of wine, some of them very expensive from small boutique vineyards, quite a wonderful windfall. Hooray! Most of them were leftover from auctions and benefits of past years, we were very excited. But…they had not been stored properly; and many of them were “over the hill” or “corked” once opened and sampled. It’s discouraging to open three bottles of expensive wine just to get one that is drinkable. We ended up with dozens of bottles of spoiled wine (that should have been wonderful), but were starting to turn to vinegar. So, what to do? I couldn’t stand the idea of chucking them down the drain.

Enter My Pantry by Alice Waters, plus information from the internet. I was inspired.

Making your own red wine vinegar is easy, white wine vinegar…not so much. I don’t recommend mixing red and white wine together (although Alice does) when making your own vinegar. Start with a simple red wine vinegar. I understand white wine vinegar is much more difficult to get right and haven’t tried it yet. We usually don’t have as much white wine left over since I often use the remainder of the bottle for cooking.

This recipe takes something that you were going to throw away, plus a touch of living vinegar, to make something that will give your food a ton of flavor. No leftover wine? No problem. You don’t need expensive wine, just something hearty and full bodied for the best vinegar.

What you do need a starter or “mother”. What’s that? Mother of vinegar (MOV or Mother for shorthand purposes) is a fermenting bacteria culture used to make vinegar — an acetobacter that develops in fermenting alcohol and converts the ethanol into acetic acid (what gives vinegar its sour taste) in the presence of oxygen. If you have a friend who makes vinegar ask them to share their mother; otherwise do as I first did and use Bragg Natural Vinegar as a starter.

Bragg Organic Apple Cider Vinegar

It was even on sale after the holidays.

Bragg vinegar

You can make a small batch but why not make a lot.

Vinegar Crock

I started with a large crock. But I had a lot of leftover, going bad, wine. You can scale up the following basic recipe.

For a smaller batch, say almost a bottle, go with:


  • 2-3 cups wine (feel free to combine the dregs from several bottles)
  • 1/4 cup of starter vinegar with mother.


  1. Pour your leftover (not from people’s glasses) wine into a clean wide mouthed jar or crock.
  2. Add starter vinegar.
  3. Mix it all up
  4. Cover with a clean fine mesh towel (secured with a rubber band or string) and let it sit at room temperature, stirring vigorously when you think of it, until a thin, gelatinous film starts to form on the surface. That will form into the mother. You may see it 7-10 days after you begin the process, the time be will dependent on the temperature where it is stored. Start tasting after a month but it may take longer. Be patient. My larger batch took almost 5 months but it is worth the wait.
  5. Once it tastes more like a smooth vinegar and is to your liking, strain (I use a coffee filter) it into bottles and seal. You can then add more wine to the leftover mother in your crock or jar or start with more Bragg vinegar to start the process again.

Note: Do not use cheesecloth to cover your fermenting container. The holes are too big and you will end up (as I did) with vinegar flies about the size of gnats in your curing vinegar. I had to throw the entire first batch out. I now use a clean tea towel tied securely around the top.

Red Wine Vinegar

Your vinegar will be slightly cloudy, but that is because it is alive.

Cucumbers continued, part 2

Cucumbers continued, part 2

Here is another recipe for using the cucumbers harvested from my Oakland garden.

Idea 2: Greek-ish salad with tomatoes, avocado, and red onions.

This salad is very popular with my family in the summer. I can often come up with most of the ingredients after a quick trip into the garden. The avocado is my own addition, not really necessary or classic. But my personal feeling is that almost everything is improved with the addition of avocado (or goat cheese). My introduction to this salad was in Tarpon Springs, Florida, where there is a large Greek fishing community. My family used to go to Paul’s for boiled peel-and-eat shrimp with Greek salad. They didn’t use avocado in their salad but did serve it with a wedge of iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, black olives, feta, and a single pepperoncini. Their dressing was heavy on the wine vinegar and dried oregano. I always gave my mother the pepperoncini.

Greek Salad

Greek Salad

The ingredients can easily be adjusted to what you have on hand, don’t worry about being exact. I used 4 tomatoes, 2 cucumbers, half of a thinly sliced red onion, some pitted Kalamata olives, and one avocado. Finely chop some fresh oregano and add it to 3 tablespoons of red wine vinegar with a teaspoon of salt, whisk in about ¼ cup of olive oil. This is quite a tart dressing but the avocado adds it’s own richness to offset the vinegar. Taste the dressing as vinegars vary a lot in their tartness. Toss the salad with the dressing a few minutes before serving to let flavors meld. Add some fresh feta or goat cheese, yum!

4 tomatoes, cut into pieces

2 peeled cucumbers, halved, seeds removed if large and sliced into ½ inch pieces

½ red onion, sliced

1 avocado, sliced 

small handful of Kalamata olives, pitted and halved (about ¼ cup)

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

¼ cup olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano

optional: cubed feta or goat cheese

Variation…if you have some stale bread on hand you could tear it into bite sized pieces and toss with the other ingredients. If so you will need more dressing since the bread will absorb a lot, and maybe more salt. Taste as you go. You would end up with a panzanella, or bread salad, which could be an entire meal with some cheese on the side.

Variation 2…in the mood for gazpacho? Leave out the olives and avocado, add 1/2 cubed red pepper and 1/2 jalapeño (seeded and chopped). Pulse everything in your food processor till soupy. The tomatoes and cucumber should add enough juice but you could add a bit of water if needed. Check for salt and pepper. Serve with a few slices of avocado on top of each bowl.