Well, folks, the vinegar I started back in February is finally ready. In case you missed the beginning of the process, the vinegar is made from homemade muscadine wine given to me over the holidays. The wine was mixed with water and a vinegar mother and has been hangin' out on my kitchen counter for around 10 weeks. It has been a time consuming yet hands-off process, and it was so worth it. Over the course of time, several mothers formed, became heavy and sank to the bottom which gave me a good indication that everything was going smoothly.
I tasted the vinegar about a week ago not really knowing what to expect, and I was pleasantly surprised. For a person who is not fond of store-bought red wine vinegar, this was a revelation. It was acidic but not overpowering, and it had a depth of flavor that those store-bought varieties don't have. It actually had a taste. It was crisp, fruity, and rich, and I got carried away and sipped three spoonfuls of it before deciding I had better gain control over myself. I allowed it to sit for one more week, partly because I didn't have time to deal with it and partly because I wanted it to be a little sharper. One week later, and I am proud to say that this is the best red wine vinegar I have ever had.
I opted to skip the step of pasteurization. If you make a lot of vinegar and will not use it in four to five months it is a good idea to pasteurize it by heating it in a non-reactive saucepan for 30 minutes at 155 degrees. It can then be poured into sterilized bottles and kept indefinitely. Unpasteurized, it will not keep as long, but I think I can use the amount I made in a reasonable length of time. I did strain the vinegar through coffee filters to remove any sediment as well as pieces of leftover vinegar mother. This is not required but will give you a clearer vinegar.
The muscadine wine is sweeter than other red wines which makes the finished vinegar fruitier and sweeter as well. I was eager to see what the vinegar would taste like with a dryer red wine, so I left 2 cups of vinegar in the jar and added 2 cups red wine and 1 cup water. I am starting the process over again and will feed this vinegar (as I did the previous vinegar) in 1 1/2 weeks. The whole process will take about 10 more weeks, and then I will be able to compare the two vinegars side-by-side. To read more about the process of making your own vinegar, check out this fantastic article by Food and Wine with step-by-step instructions.