As I write this, I have six earthenware crocks of red wine vinegar in various stages of evolution tucked away in the dark corners of my kitchen. "Why go to all that trouble?" my friends ask. "Aren't there plenty of good red wine vinegars on the market?" The answer is no. If there are any as good as the kind you can make yourself, I've yet to find them.
I'm not talking about real balsamic vinegar, or top-shelf sherry or Banyuls vinegars; great bottles of these are readily available. But when it comes to simple red wine vinegar, commercial manufacturers make it much too quickly and on the cheap.
So why is homemade vinegar so special? Its taste. It's crisper, more subtle and better balanced than the acidic one-note versions you can buy, with a sparkling quality that enhances food. Used in a sauce or simply for deglazing a sauté pan, it coaxes out layers of flavor. Furthermore, homemade red wine vinegar creates superior salad dressings: I often marinate finely chopped shallots in it for 15 minutes, then add extra-virgin olive oil and salt and pepper for a superb vinaigrette.