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The Best White Wine Vinegar
Versatility can seem boring, but it’s an asset for this pantry staple.
Published July 1, 2017. Appears in Cook's Illustrated July/August 2005, America's Test Kitchen TV Season 21: French-Inspired Comfort Food
Top PicksSee Everything We Tested
What You Need To Know
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...
Everything We Tested
Our favorite vinegar boasted high levels of both acidity and sweetness and was made from a wine based on crisp-tasting Trebbiano grapes, all of which likely accounted for the “fruity” and “vibrant” vinaigrette it produced. The notable sweetness might have brought out the “floral” and “aromatic” flavors tasters noted in the pickled vegetables.
The particular wine grapes (Chardonnay, as well as a trio of varieties often used to make the Spanish sparkling wine cava) in this vinegar might have accounted for the “fruity,” even “apple” flavors tasters picked up on in the vinaigrette. But its relatively low acid content had some tasters wishing that the pickled vegetables tasted sharper.
The acidity of this “punchy,” “assertive” vinegar was on par with that of our favorite. The product also had a good bit of sweetness that brought out similarly “fruity,” “floral” notes in the pickled vegetables.
The combination of low acid and moderate sweetness produced a “mellow” and “mild” vinegar. Consequently, the vinaigrette and pickles lacked the “punch” of other batches, though they were praised for tasting “clean” and “balanced.”
Fans of bright, acidic flavors, this vinegar’s for you. The particularly strong acid in this pricey product was “potent,” with “very citrusy,” “lemony” flavor. In the pickles, those sharper flavors mellowed to a “straightforward,” “balanced” brine that all tasters liked.
Relatively low in acid and sweetness, this vinegar didn’t “wow” or “challenge” anyone, but it also didn’t offend. Fans of mellower flavors might consider this product if what you want is a simple, “clean” source of acid.
“Rather soft vinegar presence” is a good way to describe this low-acid product. Tasters found they could better taste the oil in the vinaigrette and the carrots in the pickle mix while the vinegar “played second fiddle.” But in both applications it tasted acceptably “clean” and “smooth.”
The most acidic vinegar we tasted also contained less sugar than the others, so it packed a little too much punch for some members of our panel. But tasters who preferred a vinaigrette with “bold” acidity liked the intensity of this “bright,” “lively” vinegar.
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The mission of America’s Test Kitchen Reviews is to find the best equipment and ingredients for the home cook through rigorous, hands-on testing.
Kate is a deputy editor for ATK Reviews. She's a culinary school graduate and former line cook and cheesemonger.