As tricky as it might be to assess the merits of red wine vinegar on its own or at the rosy, softened end of a baguette slice, our panel made its way through 10 brands of red wine vinegar available in the Washington area, rating them on a scale of 0 to 5 for taste, aroma and color.
The results surprised us — or, more specifically, we were slightly chagrined that our palates preferred the brand that sells the most and costs about the least. Had we grown that accustomed to its level of acidity and straightforward notes? The runner-up had a sweetness that prompted more than one taster to jot down “balsamic.”
There were two ties; in each case, their final ranking was based on which vinegar had more favorable comments.
1. Pompeian Gourmet Red Wine Vinegar (Baltimore; blended imports), 16 ounces, $2.89; widely available. “Pretty rosy color”; “smells like what I’m used to”; “clean-tasting.”
2. Forum V. Agridulce de Cabernet Sauvignon (Spain), 8.4 ounces, $15; available at Dean & DeLuca. “Almost balsamic”; “it’s brown!”
3. Bellino Red Wine Vinegar (Italy) 16.9 ounces, $4.69; available at Safeway. “Bright raspberry notes.”
4. (tie) Monari Federzoni Red Wine Vinegar (Italy), 16.9 ounces, $3.99; available at Harris Teeter and Whole Foods Markets. “Not strong-tasting, but balanced.”
5. (tie) Napa Valley Naturals Oak Aged Organic Red Wine Vinegar (California) 12.7 ounces, $3.50; available at Whole Foods Markets. “Tart and fruity.”
6. Star Red Wine Vinegar (Spain), 12 ounces, $2.69; widely available. “Inoffensive; somewhat mild.”
7. (tie) Safeway Select Red Wine Vinegar (United States), 12.5 ounces, $2.79. “Light, mild.”
8. (tie) Rao’s Organic Red Wine Vinegar (Italy), 16.9 ounces, $6.99; widely available. “Floating sediment; offputting smell.”
9. Badia a Coltibuono Red Wine Vinegar (Italy), 16.9 ounces, $16.99; available at Arrowine in Arlington. “Left a lingering sharp taste.”
10. Katz Orleans Method Trio Red Wine Vinegar (California), 375 milliliters, $11; available at Dean & DeLuca and AllThingsOlive.com. “Nail polish remover.”