Wash the cabbage well and remove any tough outer leaves. Cut it into quarters. Shred the cabbage into one-eighth-inch wide strips by hand or using a food processor. Put the cabbage into a large mixing bowl. Add the vinegar and sugar and toss to coat evenly.
In a heavy casserole, heat the butter, then add the apples and chopped onions. Cook, stirring frequently until the apples are lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the cabbage, the whole onion with cloves, the bay leaf, and boiling water to the casserole. Stir to mix well. Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook for one and one-half hours to 2 hours. Check occasionally to see if cabbage is too dry; if so, add a little hot water. When the cabbage is done there should be almost no liquid left in the casserole.
Remove the whole onion and the bay leaf. Stir in the red wine if using. Serve warm.
Makes 8 servings