A vinegar can be produced from the juice of most fruits and grains although the word itself comes from the French vin aigre, meaning sour wine. It was almost certainly discovered by accident at least 10,000 years ago when someone discovered a culinary of other use for a cask of wine that had had gone off. Around 5,000 B.C. the Babylonians are known to have used vinegar as a preservative and a condiment and they experimented in flavouring it with herbs and spices. Roman soldiers drank it as a beverage and the Egyptian queen, Cleopatra won a bet by using it to dissolve pearls as a party trick. The ancient Greek doctor Hippocrates extolled its medicinal value, while his ancient Greek colleagues used it to pickle vegetables.
Red wine vinegar is made from the juice of the grapes used to make red wine. However, the wine is allowed to continue fermenting until it turns sour. Once this has happened it is strained or bottled. Like wine, vinegar improves with aging. The longer is ages the more muted the flavour becomes and better vinegars can be allowed to age for two years or more before bottling.
As with wine, you get what you pay for. Cheap vinegar is produced from cheap wine and can certainly affect the taste and quality of your finished dish. Good quality aromatic red wine vinegar with a complex flavour will give you better results. The label will often specify which type of wine has been used and the more expensive will be made from a single variety of a good grape.
Red wine vinegar can be kept in your store cupboard indefinitely and in fact will mature as it keeps.
You can use it in salad dressings, marinades, pickles, sweet-and-sour recipes containing meat or red cabbage.
The Aspall brand of red wine vinegar illustrated here is fermented from grapes grown in the Rioja region of Spain.