Red Wine Vinegar Is The Key To Flavorful Pickled Strawberries

Strawberries and vinegar might not seem like two ingredients that go together, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Pickling the plump red berries is a great way to play with flavor. Plus, the end result makes the perfect topping over anything from ricotta-laced crostini to fresh fish tacos or a scoop of fior di latte gelato. Yet, there is a science to pairing strawberries and vinegar. Rather than use just any tart and tangy liquid to craft pickled strawberries, the fruit really meets its match when combined with red wine vinegar.

The crisp acidity of vinegar (red wine or otherwise) works to balance the syrupy sweetness of strawberries, making the two-ingredient combo a no-brainer. What makes red wine vinegar an especially great choice to pair with juicy strawberries is that it can intensify color to improve visual appeal, while imparting a greater degree of depth. Most impressively, red wine vinegar emphasizes and enhances the fruitiness of the berries. The question is, how?

To put it simply, red wine vinegar is made with a base of — you guessed it — red wine. Despite that the alcohol undergoes a fermentation process that eventually causes it to sour, the resulting raspberry-hued liquid still manages to display nuanced fruit flavors from the wine. That said, while the exact flavors can vary based on the grape varietal used, the vinegar will often boast hints of red fruits, underlining the strawberries' fruity character.

The dos and don'ts of choosing a good red wine vinegar

Before reaching for any random red wine vinegar, there are a few things to keep in mind. Instead of focusing on price point, keep an eye on varietal labeling. Whether it be Barbera, Pinot Noir, or Cabernet Sauvignon, a bottle that lists the grape used (or even references a specific vineyard) is likely to display more specific and pronounced fruit flavors that will better highlight the strawberries in comparison to basic vinegars made with blends. Additionally, avoid infused vinegars as they'll only mask or detract fruitiness.

Should you be in a bind, there are close substitutes for red wine vinegar. While nothing will hit the exact same gustatory notes, wine-based vinegars make the best replacements. For instance, a mellow white wine vinegar can provide similar traces of sweet fruitiness, much like floral Champagne vinegar or delicately nutty sherry vinegar. Alternatively, fruit-forward apple cider vinegar is a good swap. If all else fails, you could even make your own red wine vinegar.

Ultimately, because pickled strawberries will only taste as good as the liquid used to pickle them, choosing the right vinegar is essential. Though different varieties can each contribute a unique flavor, red wine vinegar provides the right amount of berry richness and tangy tartness necessary to complement and contrast sweetly sour strawberries — why settle for anything less?