Champagne vinegar is also known as Reims vinegar (or vinaigre de Reims), named after the town of Reims, centrally located in the champagne producing region of France. Reims vinegar is made from the very same wine that makes champagne. It embodies many of the same characteristic flavors as champagne itself, but does not have champagne’s heavy price tag. It would make an excellent addition to your pantry shelf and once you try it, you are sure to find many uses for it in your day to day cooking.
How Champagne Vinegar is Made
In order to understand how champagne vinegar is made, you first need to know something about how champagne itself is made. The process to produce champagne is called the methode champenoise and it is this method along with the grapes that distinguishes champagne from other sparkling wines.
Here is a brief overview of the methode champenoise:
- All true champagne is made from Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay grapes grown in a strictly controlled region in the north east of France near the town of Reims.
- Because the champagne vineyards are so far to the north, the grapes never receive enough sunshine to fully ripen on the vine. The wine they produce is very dry, so sugar is added during the fermentation process.
- After a first fermentation in tanks, the wine is bottled along with a measure of sugar, called the liqueur de tirage, and allowed to ferment a second time. (It is during this second fermentation that the gas that gives champagne its fizz is produced.)
- During the second fermentation, the wine bottles are stored with their necks facing downwards and repeatedly turned. This process causes the sediment to settle into the neck of the bottle.
- Once all of the sediment has settled, the necks of the bottles are quickly frozen. The bottle is uncorked and the frozen sediments are expelled along with a small amount of wine.
It is this bit of champagne that is used to make champagne vinegar: Specific bacteria is added to the champagne during which time the developing vinegar is stored in aerated tanks. The bacteria act upon the alcohol turning it into acetic acid. Once the alcohol has fully turned to vinegar, it is filtered, placed in oak barrels and then allowed to age one year, before bottling. A full four years have passed since the time the grapes were on the vine!
The resulting vinegar is smooth and not at all harsh tasting. It is very light, yet flavorful, echoing the flavors you might find in champagne along with a woody element from the oak barrel aging.
Cooking with Champagne Vinegar
Here are some ideas of how to cook with champagne vinegar:
- Use it in salad dressings. If you are counting calories, champagne vinegar is your friend. Because it is milder than most vinegars, you can use it with just a touch of oil and a pinch of sugar to create a delightful tasting vinaigrette.
- Use it in tomato sauces. Ever notice how much flavor a splash of wine can add to your spaghetti sauce? Well, the same is true for vinegar, and champagne vinegar does so without any harsh bite.
- Try it in mayonnaise. It’s clear amber color and light flavor will give you a lovely looking and tasting result.
- Use it to make French sauces that call for vinegar including bernaise sauce and beurre blanc sauce.
- Make a marinade with olive oil, champagne vinegar and herbs for your next chicken recipe. Vinegar is a great meat tenderizer and champagne vinegar adds mellow flavor as well.
- Marry it with fish and seafood. Everything from fish filets to oysters get along great with champagne vinegar.
You can find champagne vinegar in gourmet food shops, or even possibly in your local grocery store. If not, you can always get it by mail order.