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White Wine Vinegar

Versatility can seem boring, but it’s an asset for this pantry staple.

What We Learned

As vinegars go, the red and white wine varieties are utility players: Neither is as distinct as sherry, balsamic, or cider vinegar; nor is either a go-to condiment for a particular dish as sherry is for gazpacho or balsamic is for strawberries. But that’s exactly what makes them valuable as pantry staples; a good version of either can deliver a jolt of clean acidity and balanced fruity sweetness to just about any dish. However, the white wine kind has a small but significant advantage: It doesn’t impart color, which can make it the better choice for seasoning pan sauces and soups or for pickling vegetables.

Since we last tasted white wine vinegars, several products have been discontinued or become hard to find. So we rounded up eight widely available vinegars, priced from $0.21 to $0.58 per ounce, and tasted them, first in a simple vinaigrette served with mild salad greens and then simmered with sugar, salt, and herbs to make a flavorful brine for giardiniera, the classic Italian pickled vegetable medley.

From Vine to Vinegar

Most of the vinegars were well balanced, combining punchy acidity with a touch of sweetness. Tasters made note of samples that were on the “mellow” side or, conversely, were too bracing. Ultimately, we liked them all enough to recommend them (even the last-place vinegar seemed like a fine choice for vinegar lovers). However, one stood out from the pack; in addition to being well balanced, it boasted complex flavor that was “fruity,” “floral,” “aromatic,” and particularly “vibrant.”

One explanation for this vinegar’s exceptional flavor might be the wine itself. All white wine vinegar is made from white wine, which is typically processed in giant stainless-steel vats called acetators that expose the alcohol to oxygen and quickly convert it to acid. Manufacturers usually then dilute the vinegar with water to a specific acidity, between 5 and 7 percent (the acidity of all vinegars must be at least 4 percent). The particular wine that’s used to make vinegar is often hard to trace, since many manufacturers use a mix of wines or “wine stock,” a blend of lower-quality wines. But in the case of our winning vinegar, the manufacturer told us it uses wine made from Trebbiano grapes, a varietal known for being crisp and fruity. (Our runner-up wasn’t made from wine stock either but from a blend of four specific varietals that are also known for their vibrant, fruity flavors.)

Sour and Sweet

Our winning vinegar also stood out for its balance of strong acidity and subtle but distinct sweetness. In fact, this vinegar, Napa Valley Naturals Organic White Wine Vinegar, was among the most acidic vinegars we tasted. We gleaned...