Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
22 Jan

How to Make Red Wine Vinegar

Tart, sour, acidic, harsh: four words that don’t exactly make our mouth water. Unfortunately, they’re often words that come to mind when tasting moderately-priced red wine vinegar that we’ve bought at the store. Even more disappointing is that immoderately-priced bottles aren’t often much better. This isn’t the case with balsamic vinegar – we’re willing to splurge now and then on a bottle of good balsamic imported from Italy because we know we can’t replicate the smooth, syrupy results at home. But red wine vinegar is a different story. By taking matters into your own hands, you can make red wine vinegar that is often much better than what you can buy. Better yet, the whole process is much easier than you might think.

It does, however, require patience. About two months from start to finish. In fact, we’re currently waiting for a batch to reach maturity and find ourselves eagerly ticking off the days until we can whisk it into vinaigrette. This sort of giddy anticipation is a big part of why we love making our own food at home. If all goes well with the vinegar currently sitting in a crock in our cupboard, we’re expecting the flavor to be a bit fruity and earthy; mellow and not overpowered by sharp acidity.

The flavor of the red wine you use will directly affect the flavor of the vinegar. This doesn’t mean the wine has to be expensive, it just means it has to be wine that tastes good to you. The next step, finding a good mother, can be a little more complicated. Relax – this step doesn’t involve psychoanalyzing your relationship with dear ol’ mom; we’re talking about an entirely different type of mother.

A mother of vinegar is a thin film of slimy, gelatinous bacteria that encourages fermentation. If you’ve bought a bottle of raw apple cider vinegar, you’ve probably seen a leftover mother floating in the bottom of the jar. This bacteria has the more scientific name of mycoderma aceti but calling it a mother is so much more poetic. You can attempt to turn red wine into vinegar by just letting it sit on your counter without a mother, but you’re likely to have tastier results with the help of some starter bacteria. The magical thing about mothers is that during the fermentation process they give “birth” to other mothers that can be used in future batches of vinegar. People who regularly make their own vinegar can use new generations of one mother to make vinegar for decades. Mothers can even be passed on to friends as a floating blob suspended in a little liquid  – usually wine diluted with water. Beer and wine making stores also sell vinegar mothers for around $10. If you can’t find a store in your area, online stores also sell mothers that are specific to making red, white, malt and cider vinegar.

Other than a mixture of wine, water and a mother, the only other supplies you’ll need are a 1-2 gallon vessel to ferment the vinegar and some cheesecloth. A ceramic crock works well because it keeps out damaging light, but a jar wrapped with cloth or paper to keep out the light could work, too. Covering the top of the vessel with cheesecloth keeps insects out, but lets air get in to feed the bacteria. Tucked away in a warm, dark place, the magical transformation into tasty red wine vinegar will begin. Months later, you’ll be rewarded and we think you’ll agree, it’s worth the wait.

There are people who swear that the best vinegar comes from adding exact amounts of wine over a specific period of time and people who swear that measuring is pointless. This second, more adventurous camp simply pours wine into their crock (which has a mother floating inside) whenever they have wine leftover in a bottle. This approach keeps a continuous batch of vinegar brewing, but you have less control over the process.

If you’d like a more methodical approach, the recipe we’ve always followed to make vinegar is based on one from food writer Paula Wolfert.

Ingredients and Supplies:

  • 2 cups red wine to begin, plus 7 1/2 cups more over the next few weeks
  • 1 cup filtered water
  • 8-ounce jar of purchased vinegar mother
  • 1-2 gallon earthenware crock or glass jar (ideally with a spigot)
  • A small square of cheesecloth


Combine 2 cups wine, the water and mother in the crock. Cover the crock with two layers of cheesecloth and secure the cloth with a rubber band around the neck of the crock.

Store the crock in a dark, warm place (ideal temperature for vinegar is between 70-80 degrees). A kitchen cabinet that is not opened frequently should work well.

Let the vinegar sit a week, then over the course of the next week add 2 1/2 cups of wine to the vinegar on three different days (for a total of 7 1/2 more cups of wine). If a thin, web-like veil has formed on top of the liquid, try not to disturb it when you add the wine. This layer is good bacteria forming, a new mother so to speak. Consider using a funnel or turkey baster to add the wine slowly so the bacteria is not disturbed.

Leave the vinegar alone for around two months, although the real test of when vinegar is done is when it tastes good to you. You can steal little tastes while it ferments (which is why a spigot on your crock is ideal) to see how the vinegar is doing. If the vinegar takes on an aroma like nail polish, unfortunately this means it has gone bad and the only thing to do is start over.

When you declare the vinegar done, strain it through a coffee filter to remove any sediment and store it a sterilized glass bottle. You can also keep the vinegar in its crock and simply take straight from the crock as needed and continue to add wine (about a cup or so a week) to keep the vinegar continuously going.

Bacteria in the crock will multiply over time, creating new mothers that will be floating around. “Older” mothers that sink to the bottom and take up room in the crock can be fished out carefully with bare, clean hands.

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. This is really a great tutorial, thanks.

    But am I the only one who thinks that Mark needs to buy Worker Bee a better camera? Come on, pony up, ya cheapskate!

    Sean wrote on January 22nd, 2011
    • ouch – yes, yer right…

      DaiaRavi wrote on January 22nd, 2011
      • Nah, be kind to the earth and work with what you got!!!

        JOzlyn wrote on September 7th, 2012
    • what is mothervinegar where is available

      chandru wrote on November 19th, 2012
  2. FUN!!!

    So, if i have an almost empty bottle of apple cider vinegar, could i just use the mother from that, or will it mess up the flavor?

    Meghan wrote on January 22nd, 2011
    • that’s what I’m wondering, someone please inform us :)

      Stephanie wrote on January 22nd, 2011
      • No – almost all vinegars are completely dead.

        Vidad wrote on January 22nd, 2011
        • Vinegar is only dead if it was pasteurized. Raw vinegar is very much ALIVE(hence a beneficial qualities of it) and mother can and should be reused for the next batch. BTW excellent book on fermentation is “Wild fermentation” by Sandor Ellix Katz

          Aram Hovsepian wrote on January 22nd, 2011
        • Aram is correct on “Wild Fermentation.” Great info in there – though the writer’s personal views may bother some. And… have you ever found raw vinegar? I haven’t had any luck locally. All the “organic,” or “natural” or “contains the mother” I found were dead as doornails.

          Vidad wrote on January 22nd, 2011
  3. Think this is good? Try making vinegar with a nice fruit wine. Mmmm, cherry wine vinegar.

    Grace wrote on January 22nd, 2011
  4. Wow that looks tasty, and not to hard to do. I haven’t done much cooking with vinegar, but now you’ve got my interest up. Always nicer to use something that I know where it came from, and have control over.

    Poppabear wrote on January 22nd, 2011
  5. A word about balsamic vinegar. The production of Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale – which is the only real balsamic vinegar – is highly regulated champagne style and has to be stored for a minimum of 12 years. This type of balsamic vinegar is incredibly expensive (again, if it doesn’t cost you like a bottle of fancy champagne, it’s probably not it). Cheaper versions of balsamic vinegar, Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, can contain artificial colouring, caramel, thickeners and all kinds of things, so I advise everyone to be careful.

    I don’t know what the situation is for everyone locally, but where I live it is far easier to come across a good red wine vinegar in an acceptable price range than to even find real balsamic vinegar. Of course, now we know how to make our own red wine vinegar 😉

    Malin wrote on January 22nd, 2011
    • Didn’t know that. That’s veryinformative. Thank you for sharing!

      Aram Hovsepian wrote on January 22nd, 2011
      • Yeah, you’d be surprised what’s in things once you start reading the labels, even the most innocent things. I read the label off of grated mozzarella the other day, it had potato starch in it. O.o

        Malin wrote on January 23rd, 2011
        • The potato starch is to keep the grated mozzarella from sticking together.

          chipin wrote on January 23rd, 2011
  6. I love this post. Becoming as self-sufficient as possible is important to me. I hope to see more posts like this! I used to brew my own beer… but having since removed beer from my diet, homebrewing is no longer a useful skill to have.

    Paleohund wrote on January 22nd, 2011
  7. … can i assume that an organic apple cider vinegar “mother” would work as a starter for the wine/water vinegar?

    DaiaRavi wrote on January 22nd, 2011
    • Even those are usually killed in bottling. You’ll need to find a live culture elsewhere. Been there… done that!

      Vidad wrote on January 22nd, 2011
      • i make herbal vinegars all the time using fresh herbs and bragg’s acv. this spring, my chickweed vinegar grew a huge mother, about 1/2″ thick and 2 more formed under that.

        interestingly enough, the blackberry vinegar that i started the same day from the same vinegar did not grow a mother.

        i decided to try making red wine vinegar with one of the mothers and it is currently sitting on my counter. i just started it about 3 days ago and already there’s a film growing on the top. perhaps something in the chickweed helped ‘grow’ the mother.

        kristine wrote on January 22nd, 2011
    • We tried Braggs brand, unpasteurized, from a local organic food shop. We picked the bottle with the most visible mother ( some bottles didnt seem to have much in me at all). So far, we’re seeing the mother growing nicely!

      Nancy wrote on April 14th, 2012
  8. Fascinating… I had no idea it was possible and so simple to make vinegar at home. Definitely going to try it!

    Katie wrote on January 22nd, 2011
  9. It’s vinegar.

    rob wrote on January 22nd, 2011
  10. Does it matter which style of red wine is used? Or, is one better than another.

    Tee wrote on January 22nd, 2011
  11. I’ve used a mother from live apple cider vinegar to start wine vinegar multiple times and never had a failure. Also, though the crock sounds like the best way to go, I just use washed empty wine bottles to brew it in. I just cork them with a speed pour top which allows air in and they sit on the counter.

    slacker wrote on January 22nd, 2011
    • I use Braggs with the mother and have for years and I use wine bottles with a pour spout with a shot glass upside down over it to keep any contaminants out – AWESOME vinegar that tastes like no other – I sip it straight from a teaspoon – sooo good! When I have leftover wine, I just bottle some of the vinegar and add the leftover wine to the fermenting bottle – always full! Makes great gifts!

      Wanda wrote on August 17th, 2012
  12. I love this site for its practical information. As a modern day homesteader, this kind of information is invaluable. Would you please write an article about how to make apple cider vinegar out of apples. Thank you.

    Karen wrote on January 23rd, 2011
  13. Neat, we’ll give it a shot.

    Primal Palette wrote on January 23rd, 2011
  14. Looks good!

    I’ve recently been trying a lot of new DIY things in the kitchen–sauerkraut being the most recent.

    I’ll have to give this a try!

    Darrin wrote on January 23rd, 2011
  15. Great idea! I think I’ll give it a try. Always loved my Italian Grandmother’s Red Wine vinegar, but never got into the Balsamic craze. So, this might be a good way to go. Thanks.

    Bob Mass wrote on January 24th, 2011
  16. I started making my own years ago in an old wine bottle. As ghetto as this sounds, I just poured off some white vinegar in the bottle because the wine was going south anyways. Shook it up, gave it a few days, used it. Keep adding to it from every bottle of red we open (well, every bottle that tastes good.) It’s worked out for us.

    naiadknight wrote on January 24th, 2011
  17. Thanks for the instructions! God bless you all who are on the way to discovery and share it with us city folks who are just now learning country folks ways to have self sufficiency with a flair.

    KSH wrote on January 26th, 2011
  18. Wine with sulfites will take much longer to” turn” as the sulfites weaken the bacteria in the mother.

    Also, there are special funnels made with very long stems so that when you refresh your crock or barrel with more wine it is added under the surface of the mother so as not to disturb it.

    Ray wrote on January 26th, 2011
  19. Hello, I am looking for a good mother so I can
    make some wine vinegar.

    Have already ordered a beautiful crock and I do not
    think the beauty of it will make better vinegar, but,
    I had to have it.

    This is all new to me and wonder about getting
    a very good mother, not just the run of the mill
    that someone wants to get rid of.

    Can I use sweet wine? I read somewhere that one
    should not use sweet wine due to the sugar.

    Thanks janet

    janet wrote on February 12th, 2011
  20. What a great site! Thanks for the information. I found you because I’m trying to figure out if the film that’s floating around in my half-empty (plastic) bottle of malt vinegar is in fact a mother. It’s definitely slimy, and it covered the whole top of the vinegar. Think I should extract it and try to make wine vinegar>

    Elizabeth wrote on March 1st, 2011
  21. I started my batch of wine vinegar a week ago using apple cider vinegar with mother and it smells great. Can’t wait to use it.

    Ron MacDonald wrote on May 5th, 2011
  22. I found a site that sells charred oak barrels for making red wine vinegar. I ordered a 2 L size for my sister’s birthday. They are They also sell the mother but the red was back-ordered.

    Dayvd wrote on May 9th, 2011
  23. Followed your instructions and test my results today, it was fantastic. Now to make some white wine vinegar.

    Ron wrote on June 7th, 2011
  24. So…I have some red wine in a carboy under the laundryroom sink it has been there for 2 years now. Still looks good and the taste 2years ago was great but then as it sat it turned into “wineshine” and was kicking but!! I have about 3 gallons. Could you make vinegar out of it? We used fruit and sugar with yeast to start it.

    mary wrote on July 5th, 2011
  25. Wow, this is an article really complete, I’ll finally be able to do at home. Really thank you for sharing!

    Aurélien wrote on September 22nd, 2011
  26. i am a bit confused by these directions – i understand diluting the wine, buy starting with 2 parts wine, 1 part water, 1 part mother, as you need to lower the alcohol %. however, the 7.5cups that are added later do not seem to be diluted. isn’t it important to always dilute any additional wine, to keep the overall alcohol % around 7%??

    jeff wrote on November 20th, 2011
    • I have never diluted any of my wine vinegars with water or anything else and have no intention of doing so. My wine vinegars are awesome and I’m not gonna mess with perfection! My starter was Braggs with the mother for both red and white wine vinegars…never heard of a vinegar mother that was predjusticed!

      Wanda wrote on August 17th, 2012
  27. Thanks for the great tips. I love red wine vinegar and its many uses!

    Francine wrote on December 17th, 2011
  28. I have a vinegar barrel in my wine cellar for some 15 yrs.I add leftover wine to the barrel from time to time.I also add distilled white vinegar each year along with a piece of home made pasta.The vinegar is not as strong as it once was,am I doing something wrong?

    Dr. Bob wrote on January 11th, 2012
  29. I started red and white wine vinegar and the red has all green fugues on the top is this good? i did not use a mother? its only one month. i did not put it in the dark rather? should i just start over?

    mike wrote on February 9th, 2012
    • I think your vinegar was contaminated and needs to be tossed. If you don’t use a mother, it will pick up cultures from its environment but that doesn’t mean it is good cultures so you got bad ones and it has molded. And everything has to be super clean to start and covered with a couple of layers of cheesecloth to keep dust and other contaminants out… I never put mine in the dark but they are in tinted bottles with a pourer in them and a shot glass turned upside down over the pourer so they get air but nothing can get in but air and they’re kept out of direct sun but just on my counter. Don’t give up!

      Wanda wrote on August 17th, 2012
  30. Why do we leave ACV raw, but filter the red wine vinegar? Does the RWV lose benefits through the filtration? Should I leave the mother in the RWV? I’ve read that leaving the mother in RWV can cause problems, but then why not the ACV?

    Help me understand all this!

    KatGold wrote on March 16th, 2012
    • IMO, the ACV is capped so it is no longer getting an air supply but it doesn’t die… Your RWV is for home use and not to bottle and sell so it’s okay to just keep adding red wine in an effort to keep an infinate supply. I leave the mother in there until it grows to taking up too much space at which time take some of it out and I try to pass it one to someone else wanting to make vinegar or I just start a separate batch afresh. When I want to, I take out some RWV and put it in a sanitized glass container, put a lid on it and eventually give it as a gift. I do the exact same thing with WWV! Simpler answer – the mother has to have air to grow but not to live!

      Wanda wrote on August 17th, 2012
  31. Mark! It’s not bacteria, it’s a *yeast*. Nice article, though, thanks.

    Joyce wrote on March 31st, 2012
  32. I remember my mother taking homemade wine…leaving it on the back porch with sticks of pasta in the bottle. And we always had home made wine vinegar. What role did the pasta play in turning wine into red wine vinegar? I was too young to care at the time.

    lucille mayotte wrote on April 30th, 2012
  33. I’m currently making red, champagne and malt vinegars, aging them in oak barrels. What is happening when mold is growing inside the barrel above the malt vinegar I’m aging. Is it going bad? None of my wine or champagne barrels are doing that. All you see is a perfect mother covering the vinegar.

    I’d like to bottle the malt vinegar but unsure about the growing mold in the upper part of the barrel. Please advise. Thank you

    Michael Cummings wrote on May 19th, 2012
    • I would toss it, mold on any food is bad – unless you have injected cheese with a cultured ‘mold’ to get blue cheese. Your wine has picked up contaminant cultures from its environment or from not starting out sanitized fully…or something has gotten in it that wasn’t supposed to. Did you start out with a mother? It would be the luck of the draw if you’re trying to get it going without one – it can work but it can also not work whereas a mother is more of a sure thing but you still have to keep contaminants from getting into it.

      Wanda wrote on August 17th, 2012

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