Are you tired of throwing out half-full bottles of wine?  (If this is a frequent problem, maybe it's time for a preservation system!) Do you wish you could put those leftovers to good use?  You can!  Try making homemade red wine vinegar.  Not only is it a great way to use up the ends of bottles, it's easy and the results are spectacular.

Homemade red wine vinegar is very different from the store-bought stuff.  Even expensive store-bought vinegars are often rushed through fermentation, making them highly acidic and lacking in flavor.  Homemade vinegar, by contrast, has a milder, more rounded taste that is great for deglazing a pan, incorporating into a sauce, and of course, for making a great vinaigrette.

You'll need a starter, commonly referred to as a mother.  A vinegar mother is composed of cellulose and acetic acid bacteria.  It

Red Wine Vinegar A vinegar mother
feeds on a fermenting alcoholic liquid (in this case, red wine), and uses oxygen from the air to turn alcohol into acetic acid.  A mother is a strange-looking, cloudy-whitish substance (see picture), but it can't hurt you or the vinegar, and it's easy to strain it out from your product with a coffee filter.

You can make your own mother by leaving out vinegar, uncovered and ideally in a shallow dish, to catch the naturally-occurring bacteria from the air and allow it to cultivate.  But this can be a tough and time-consuming process; it's easy to start cultivating the wrong bacteria and watch your vinegar attempts rot again and again.  If you want to make it easy on yourself, you can either get a mother from a vinegar-making friend, or you can order one from a beer-and-wine-making supplier.

Besides your mother, you'll need an earthenware crock with a plastic or wooden spigot.  Bigger is better here--a crock that holds at least a gallon will free you up to make a large quantity of vinegar.  If you think you might want to bottle your vinegar for friends--it makes a great gift--buy a bigger one.

Vinegar-making doesn't require a specific recipe, but here's a basic one to get your started: Add two parts red wine to one part vinegar to your crock, and toss in the mother.  Cover the crock with cheesecloth (to keep out insects) and attach it with a rubber band.  Then simply add a couple cups of red wine to the crock twice a week for the next two weeks.  Let the crock sit for about 10 weeks.  When it tastes and smells like vinegar, it's ready.

The best wine vinegars are made from good wines.  Typically, fruitier, younger wines result in tastier vinegars.  After your vinegar is ready, you can let it age in the bottle for a deeper, richer flavor.  You can even add herbs or spices to make flavored vinegars.

Stop throwing away your leftover wine!  Put it to good use, and enjoy a tasty, homemade red wine vinegar for many meals to come.

We've also written about white wine vinegar! Check it out.