Wine Vinegar How-To

After the ball is over, you can make vinegar with what’s left in the bottle!

Calling all booze hounds!  Or not.  You could be a teetotaler who entertains and this would still be a kickass thing for you to make.  Why?  Because it takes a bowl, some stuff you were going to throw away and a touch of living vinegar (homemade or Bragg’s will do) to make something that will give your food a ton of flavor.  Also, it’s not necessarily cheap to buy decent red wine vinegar, and this is virtually free to make.

We entertain a lot.  Or we did, in the period between crazy and über-crazy (aka parts of the last two years).  These days our gatherings consist of having a couple friends over for dinner when we can scrape together the collective energy to mop our floors and vacuum our couch.  But our favorite kind of party is the kind that I used to blog about.  We call it Brunch ‘Til Dawn.  Although the title is somewhat self-explanatory, I’ll explain.  We have a brunch to celebrate something, but we make enough food to feed 20-25 people two to three times because typically we start at noon and go to the wee hours.  There is likely be some form of Kinect dancing, along with some karaoke, if I have my druthers.   There could be jai alai in the street, depending on the hour and the mood of the crowd.  There will definitely be copious amounts of food and drink.  And inevitably, my husband and I will be too tired to do all the party clean-up before we crash out for the night/morning.

Surface area is good for vinegar making! This is aerobic fermentation!

This lazy practice has led to more than one quarter-full bottle of decent or (*sobs*) excellent wine ending its life open on the counter for too many hours.   But I’m nothing if not optimistic.  When life (or my own bad habit) gives me wine that’s been exposed to too much oxygen, I make vinegar.  I think you should too.

Wine Vinegar

Yields ~1 cup vinegar (expect some evaporation).  Can be scaled for any amount of leftover (or even just-opened) wine.

Contrary to what I’ve read in several places, you in no way need a physical mother of vinegar to make your own batch.  Real, living (not pastuerized) vinegar will definitely do the trick as a starter.  For my first batch I used Bragg’s, but ever since then I’ve used my own.  I eventually made a batch of vinegar that spontaneously grew its own mother and now I get a new mother forming on the surface of my vinegar every so often, whether I use one to kick off a new batch or not.  I like to make small quantities of this with whatever I have left after a fête.  Give it a mix whenever you think of it.  Air is your friend.  The acetobacter (not a typo) responsible for vinegar fermentation are abundant in the air, and they need oxygen to survive, so mix those guys in and enjoy the tasty, tasty product.

Add vinegar that has not been heat-treated, such as Bragg’s, to your unwanted wine to get this going. No mother needed.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup wine
  • 3 tablespoons starter vineagar, use a living variety.  Homemade if you can get it.  Bragg’s is good too!

Do It:

  1. Pour your leftover (not from people’s glasses) wine into a vessel with a large surface area, such as a bowl or wide-mouthed jar.
  2. Add starter vinegar.
  3. Stir it all up, very vigorously
  4. Cover with a towel (secured with a rubber band or string) and let it sit at room temperature, stirring vigorously when you think of it (preferably daily), until a thin, gelatinous film starts to form on the surface. That will form into the mother.  You will probably see it form 7-10 days after you begin the process. With small amounts like this, I start tasting it at 3 weeks.  It can take longer than a month, though.
  5. Once it tastes more like vinegar and less like wine, move it to an airtight container, with very little surface area exposed.  Swingtops and sealable wine bottles of the appropriate size work great.  Although air is critical to the process of vinegar fermentation, continued exposure to air once you have your vinegar is a good way to ruin it/make it not be vinegar any more.  (I have been storing my vinegar wrong for ages.  I learned this in The Art of Fermentation.  Which you should buy.  Today.)
Basics Easy fermenting Ferment Frugal Fermentation Vegan Vegetarian

33 comments

  1. Thank you for this! I love that I can make it without a mother. Now I only need to find a half-finished bottle of old wine, which is a rarity in my house (not because I am a teetotaler, unfortunately, but because I am a lush. so wish me luck!)

  2. Amanda says:

    Hi Ruthy! Sorry I’m just seeing this now!
    I’m with you! I’m not a huge drinker, but my husband usually picks up my slack. If you love wine vinegar or just want to try out the process, you can totally use “fresh” wine, but then you lose the conservation value. A bottle of crappy wine can make a pretty decent bottle of wine vinegar, though!

    • Amanda says:

      Most common response I’ve heard, Fred! :-)
      Feel free to use 2 buck chuck or another non-leftover cheapo wine. They do the trick just as well. Sometimes I think a bad wine is improved by being turned in to vinegar!

  3. Christina says:

    “Contrary to what I’ve read in several places, you in no way need a mother of vinegar to make your own batch. … For my first batch I used Bragg’s…”

    Bragg’s has the mother in it–that’s a prominent part of their branding–so I’m not sure that using it as a starter counts as not using a mother. It just means you don’t have to come up with a mother of your own, having purchased an ingredient that includes it already.

    • Amanda says:

      Hi Christina,

      Thanks for you input. Bragg’s is indeed living vinegar and contains, per their advertising “the mother.” My comment about the mother refers to an actual mother (aka SCOBY), that one would have to obtain. Many vinegar recipes call for this, and I wanted people to understand that if they are using a living vinegar, the bacteria and yeast present in it are sufficient for starting a new batch, so they don’t need to spend the time or effort seeking out a mother. When I use my own vinegar, I filter it and there is no solid (or even wispy, gelatinous) mother present. As long as the vinegar is alive, it will work! As with kombucha, the microorganisms present will often form a new mother that can then be used for future batches, but it is not a necessary element for vinegar-making.

      Thanks again!

      Amanda

    • Amanda says:

      Hi Anja,

      Yes, Braggs works great! I started my first batch with Braggs Apple Cider vinegar. Now I use my own as a starter, but I got going with Braggs.

  4. Tim C G says:

    Since wine has so many chemicals in it, I usually make my vinegar out of straight apple, grape juice, blueberry and I am actually making pomegranate vinegar right now. I usually put about 3/4 juice (100% pure) and 1/4 Braggs ACV with the mother. I also cut up some apple with the peals and core and place in jars (I have also put cut up bananas, pears and whole blueberries in it). Cover with cheese cloth and place in cabinet in warm garage. If it stays hot, you have vinegar in a couple weeks, if cooler, maybe a month or longer. Every now and then it goes bad, who knows why. Good luck.

    • Amanda says:

      Yup, you can make vinegar out of just about anything! See the most recent post for my cherry scrap vinegar how-to. As for wine having so many chemicals, I worked at a winery and I was pretty fine with everything that went into the process. Lots of different options for vinegar-making, though, if you don’t like or can’t have wine. It can basically be made out of anything that has sugar!

      I like to have several varieties on hand, since they all offer a distinctive flavor profile that can really distinguish a meal.

      Enjoy your vinegar!

  5. Mitzi says:

    I stumbled upon this article because I soo badly want to make my own, but I’m scared :0 If I taste it after 3 weeks and it’s nasty, I would assume it’s gone rancid. Will that make me sick? And, (newbie here) what is a living vinegar? Can I just use my Heinz white vinegar as a starter? AND, when you say you use your own now, how do you do that? Skim the film off the top? Is that a mother? How do you store it?

    • Amanda says:

      Hi Mitzi,

      I totally feel you! Don’t be afraid, though. Just give it a shot and see what happens. If you don’t like the taste at three weeks, evaluate why. Was it not vinegary enough? Was it too acidic and not flavorful enough? If the former, ferment it for a few more days before tasting again. IF the latter, it probably went too long or was in too warm of a spot in your home.

      You Heinz vinegar will not work because it has been pasteurized, and all of the living bacteria are dead. The only nationally available living vinegar I’m aware of is Bragg’s although there are bound to be others out there I don’t know about.

      When the vinegar tastes how you want it to taste, you need to remove the blob on the surface (yes, that’s the mother). You can use it to culture a new batch of vinegar or give it away. Once your vinegar is done, you need to move it to an airtight container. Air is your friend during fermentation, but once it’s at an acidity that you like, it’s time to put it in a bottle that seals.

      I hope that helps! There really is nothing to be afraid of!

  6. Casey says:

    I have a lot of wines that I have gotten from the winery I currently work for. If I start a batch larger than 1 cup do I also double the amount of braggs?

    • Amanda says:

      Hi Casey,

      Go for about 15% starter vinegar; slightly less in the summer, slightly more in the winter. You can really do any quantity wine, so no worries on doing a larger batch. Let me know how you like it!

      Amanda

  7. Naiya says:

    Hello.
    This is my first time considering making vinegar and I have a few questions.
    I have about 1&1/2 cup of leftover wine (1981 Cab) that went sour the day after I opened it and I want to use that to make some vinegar.
    I was wondering if I can use a glass pitcher and if so do I have to sterilize that before storing the wine in that? The original bottle is also a very big bottle, which contained about 4 (750mL) bottles, so can I use that to store the wine and make vinegar?
    I also have some homemade vinegar (made in 1992), which was given to me this year (minus the mother…I think), but I was wondering if I could use that or should I use Bragg apple cider vinegar?
    Last question, can I add wine periodically to the fermenting batch to increase the volume?

  8. Amanda says:

    Hi Naiya,

    I do not sterilize for fermentation, generally speaking. I always ensure that everything is very clean, but sterilization is rarely necessary.

    A glass pitcher would work great, provided that it has a wide opening. You need air for vinegar fermentation, and the more air exposure it has, the better. For this same reason, I wouldn’t recommend fermenting in the large wine bottle you mentioned.

    For storage, you want as little air exposure as possible, so depending on the amount of the final product, a wine bottle may work quite well.

    An aged, homemade vinegar could make an excellent starter (although if it is very fine, using it as a starter may be a waste), but only if it hasn’t been pasteurized after fermentation. I’m guess with a 21-year-old vinegar, pasteurization probably did occur. The key thing is to use a living vinegar, and pasteurization will have killed off all of the living organisms needed for fermentation.

    I personally do add fresh wine into my vinegar bowl periodically. It has always worked great for me!

    I hope that helps!

    Happy New Year!

  9. Tim says:

    Great article! I will use Braggs ACV to use as a starter.
    Does the vinegar have to be fresh? What happens if say, the vinegar has been on the shelf for a while and not tightly sealed – will it still do as a starter?
    Thanks

    • Amanda says:

      It should be fine, Tim. I read in The Art of Fermentation that after some time the acetobacter will turn the vinegar into water and carbon dioxide, but I think it takes quite a long time for that to happen. Taste your vinegar; if it still tastes like vinegar, you should be good to go!

  10. Thomas Adair says:

    I have a bottle of wine that looks like it’s corked. It sitting on is side and there is some small seepage from the cork. I can use this safely? I guess it is almost vinegar anyways!

    • Amanda says:

      Hi Thomas,

      I would, but for your well-being, I have to offer you a caveat. If the wine is corked, there could be less desirable organisms in there like molds, that might not make for the tastiest vinegar. You can always give it a try and if you see anything on the surface that looks like mold instead of a mother, use your discretion and toss it.

      Let me know what you decide to do!

  11. Sally says:

    Hi Amanda,
    I live in Australia :o) thanks for blog. I have a commercial red wine vinegar, 1/3 full and it has a layer of something (perhaps”mother”??) on top of the liquid inside the bottle. So potentially I could use this?

    • Amanda says:

      Hi Sally,

      The majority of commercial vinegars are pasteurized and therefore not suitable to use as a starter (although it’s possible that’s not true in Australia. I’d be happy to come over and do some research!), but if you definitely have a Mother on it, that would mean that it’s unpasteurized. Ideally it would say on the bottle that it’s living, raw, or unpasteurized, but if you can see the blob and you can identify it as a mother, you should be good. Make sure the vinegar you’re using looks and smells alright, and that the mother is in good condition (no mold, etc). I hope that helps!

  12. Danielle says:

    I haven’t seen anyone comment on whether or not you can mix various different leftover wines to make vinegar. I have heard you can mix all kinds of wines together (even reds and whites) and get a good-tasting vinegar. Is that correct?

  13. Scott says:

    Can I use a light resistant plastic container? I have a 5-gallon plastic container with spigot for water for camping. If I leave upright without the lid, covered with cheese cloth, there should be plenty of circulation. Then when it’s time to draw off the vinegar, I imagine I could just replace lid with spigot and pour. Thoughts?

    • Amanda says:

      Hi Scott,

      I’m very inexperienced with fermenting in plastic. I generally prefer to avoid it, but if you know that your bucket is food-safe, it should be fine. You’ll certainly get a nice big batch and some great circulation out of it.

      I’d love to hear how it turns out for you.

      Happy Fermenting!

  14. Laura says:

    I have been trying to make vinegar and I am not sure what I have done wrong. What I have tastes like vinegar but there is no gelatinous blob. I mixed Bragg’s with some red wine in a sun tea container (glass) covered in cheese cloth. There is a bit of some type of sediment at the bottom, but wouldn’t the mother float? I keep it in a cupboard because I was told to keep it in a dark place. Help?

    • Amanda says:

      Hi Laura,

      How long has it been fermenting? Also, did you stir? It’s possible that the mother was very thin. If that’s the case, is it possible that while it was forming you stirred it back in?

      Vinegar mothers tend to be much thinner and more easily destroyed than kombucha SCOBYs, so that is something to consider. If it smells and tastes like vinegar and has been fermenting for 3 to 4 weeks at normal, room temperature, you’re probably fine. You might get a much more substantial mother on the batch you make using your homemade vinegar as a starter.

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