Red wine vinegar is a pantry staple that’s used to deglaze pans, marinate meat or lentil soup, but it’s also delightful in lighter applications like dressing a green salad. Red wine vinegar is one of our go-to ingredients for transforming recipes from good to great, but what really is it, anyway? And what can you use as a substitute for red wine vinegar?
What Is Red Wine Vinegar?
Dating back to ancient times, red wine vinegar is simply produced by fermenting red wine. During the fermentation process, the alcohol in the wine turns into acetic acid, which makes it sour and gives it the potent scent and flavor of vinegar. There’s a wide range of red wine vinegars available on the market, and not all are created equal. Just like red wines, red wine vinegars taste different from each other depending on all sorts of factors, from the grape variety to the length of fermentation. It can take some experimentation to find a brand that you love. Think of choosing a red wine vinegar as a similar experience to choosing a red wine; you want something with a full flavor and a pleasant balance of fruitiness and acidity. We’re partial to the specialty brand Valpolicella, as well as the grocery store favorite Pompeian.
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Red Wine + White Wine Vinegar
The combination of regular red wine (whether it be Chianti Classico or a bold Bordeaux) and white wine vinegar is our go-to method for mimicking red wine vinegar. Once you mix the two ingredients together in equal parts, you’ll hardly be able to tell the difference. The red wine offers sweetness and depth, while the white wine vinegar offers zippy acidity, making it an ideal concoction for when you wish you had the real deal in your cupboard.
White Wine Vinegar
As the name suggests, white wine vinegar is made by fermenting white wine. It’s milder and more delicately flavored than its red counterpart, but it’s also made from grapes and has a similar level of acidity. If the color of the vinegar doesn’t matter to you, or if you want to avoid adding alcohol altogether, white wine vinegar is a great substitute for red wine vinegar.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Like wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar is fruit-forward, except it’s made with apples instead of grapes. If you’re searching for a fruity vinegar replacement, this variety is perfect. Keep in mind that apple cider vinegar won’t be as acidic as wine vinegar, though, so you may need to add an extra splash depending on the recipe. Your best kitchen tool is your palate, so taste and adjust until the dish tastes balanced to you.
Sherry vinegar, or fermented and aged sherry wine, is on the sweeter side, with balanced, rounded acidity. You can use sherry vinegar as a 1:1 substitute for red wine vinegar, but start with a light hand and taste as you go to make sure you like the result. We love sherry vinegar with fresh summer produce like tomatoes to intensify their natural flavors.
Derived from (you guessed it) Champagne, this vinegar is mellow and floral, best for delicate uses like drizzling on a grilled peach salad or dressing a simple green salad. Reach for Champagne vinegar instead of red wine vinegar for light preparations that could use a little lift.
To be clear: lemon juice and red wine vinegar taste completely different. With that said, if you’re looking for a hit of acidity and brightness in whatever you’re cooking, a squeeze of lemon will do the trick. The acidity will help deglaze a pan after you’ve pan-seared steak or chicken, and it’s a seamless substitute in salad dressings, too.