By Terry Sweeney
You know I love to cook with wine, and sometime I even put some in the food. And when I do, one of my favorite forms it takes is wine vinegar. All the way back to the Neolithic period, cave folks were messing around with fermenting grapes, no doubt anxious to get their prehistoric buzz on before having to face down giant ferocious Raptors and man-eating Saber-Toothed Tigers. Who can blame them? When those poor guys went “clubbing” it wasn’t the fun all-night bar-hopping we civilized Happy Winos know today, it was the real deal.
We owe those early primitive winemakers a huge debt of gratitude for all the wine we take for granted today, and, not least of all, for vinegar.
No doubt the first wine vinegar was the result of some poor Fred Vinstone, who, while storing his jug of wine, had neglected to put the clay stopper in right and allowed too much oxygen in, which turned the wine sour. As usual, Fred probably spit that stuff out and blamed it on his drunk friend, Barney. But eventually he found ways to use the “bad wine.” He put it to work as a cure-all, a food preservative, and later a flavor enhancer.
Like wine, the use of vinegar as a medicine began soon after it was discovered. Its healing capabilities were praised in early records of the Babylonians and that great Greek Doc of his day — Hippocrates. Nobody really knows exactly which ancient wino tossed the first vinegar on his greens, but I’d bet money he or she was French since the word vinegar is derived from the French words “sour wine.” Hey, if the French could invent fries, croissants and passionate kissing, inventing salad dressing seems like it would be a snap.
Today we enjoy a vast array of red and white wine vinegars. But I found some to be far superior to others, at least to my Happy Wino palate. Here are three:
1. Pompeian Red Wine Vinegar $5.99
It’s the least expensive wine vinegar I’ve found and it’s readily available in most supermarkets. You can actually taste the grape blend of domestic red wine and imported aged Spanish vinegar. There’s even a slight hint of port hovering in the background. Not only can you use this vinegar with extra virgin olive oil for a salad, but you can also use it to de-glaze a pan for a yummy sauce to go over chicken or pork.
2. Lucini Italian Pinot Grigio White Wine Vinegar $10.99
This white wine vinegar makes for an outstanding salad dressing especially if you combine it with poached pears. Those dedicated Lucini peeps over in Italy crush the grapes immediately after harvest and let them naturally ferment. Then they are barrel-aged in fire-toasted Italian oak barrels to “balance and soften and add complexity,” say the Lucinis.
And they are so right! It’s crisp and lively yet smooth and dry. I recommend adding actual Pinot Grigio to the dressing, but just a 1/4 cup at most — save the rest for you!
3. Kimberly Artisanal Barrel-Aged Wine Vinegars from Lodi California
The champagne of vinegars. As a matter of fact, they even make a champagne vinegar. What makes their vinegars so unique? The good folks at Kimberly use Old-World production methods known as the Orleans process, named after the French town of Orleans, know as the “City of Vinegars.” It is a highly distinct process that has certain stringent conditions that must be met to produce this superior vinegar. I suggest their three bottle vinegar collection — the organic Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Champagne which is $39. You can contact them at email@example.com or call 209-334-9112.
I recommend experimenting with different flavored wine vinegars. Vinegar is no longer the sour-faced sibling living in sweet wine’s shadow. Forget that saying of “attracting more flies with honey.” Who the heck wants to attract flies anyway? Here’s a new saying: “If life gives you vinegar, make vinaigrette!”