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Sour Grapes

Art by Anna Vu

Will it vinegar? That is the question.

When we heard natural wine advocates Nicole Campbell and Krysta Oben, aka the Grape Witches, would be tasting our vinegars, we knew we had to try turning some of our favorite natural wines into vinegar. 

We’re inspired by natural wine. We like that it’s made by small producers who respect good agriculture. We enjoy the complex flavors developed through natural fermentation. We appreciate the sense of fun that many producers bring to their labels. And we love that people like the Grape Witches are bringing that same sense of fun to their natural wine parties.

But the question is, will natural wine vinegar?

Here at Acid League, we pride ourselves on being able to turn anything into vinegar. We’ve made vinegar out of ketchup, kombu, Campari, carrots, and about 500 other ingredients to date. On its face, turning wine into vinegar isn’t exactly a challenge. But vinegar made from a specific, single wine is unexplored territory. Some might call us crazy for turning good wine into vinegar, but we decided to see what the Grape Witches thought of these bottles after their trip through our fermenter. 

Alex & Maria Koppitsch ‘Homok’ 2018

The natural wine world loves Alex and Maria Koppitsch. The Austrian winemaking couple are famously as fun and energetic as their wines. ‘Homok’ is an unfiltered blend of Gruner Veltliner, Sauvignon Blanc, and Weissburgunder with a touch of skin contact. It jumps out of the glass with bright citrus flavors and some kombucha-like funk.

“We know this wine very well,” says Campbell. “This is a very beautiful juicy wine.” But some of that juiciness and energy present in the wine disappeared in the transformation to vinegar. It’s not bad, but everyone agrees that it simply tastes like white wine vinegar. “You don’t get the other elements now,” says Campbell. “But we’re trying to get the producers to visit, and they would love the idea.” 

Frank Cornelissen ‘Susucaru Rosato’ 2018

Frank Cornelissen is regarded as one of the godfathers of natural wine—and not just because he’s based in Sicily. His remarkable ability to convey the terroir of Mt. Etna’s volcanic soils through wines that burst with fresh fruit and intense minerality is unmatched. The ‘Susucaru Rosato’ is a blend of white and red grapes full of citrus peel, flowers, and sour cherries, with a slightly smoky backbone. It’s the definition of fun.

“The colors are beautiful. It’s very true to the color of the wine,” says Campbell, eyeing the vinegar in a wine glass. “It’s nice. It doesn’t taste like Susucaru, but there’s a bit more interest.” If you know to look for it, there’s an earthy, volcanic note—rosé vinegar with a little more depth than you might expect. “It’s nice and juicy,” says Oben. 

Les Athlètes du Vin ‘Pineau d'Aunis’ 2016

A group of Loire winemakers called ‘Vini Be Good’ banded together to create this crowd-pleasing red with an edge. Pineau D’Aunis is a relatively unknown grape that deserves its time in the spotlight. True to type, this wine meshes bright red fruit with an intriguing white pepper, spice box edge that sets it apart.

But when it comes to the vinegar, Oben says: “It doesn’t have that peppery, floral stuff that you’d expect in the wine but it does taste like a nice, robust red wine vinegar.” “You taste the tannin,” Campbell notes. “The structure comes through nicely.” 

The question was, will natural wine vinegar? The answer is yes, but we want a second shot at it too. These were solid vinegars, but with more testing we know we can produce single-origin vinegars that truly reflect the flavors of the wine. If we’re going to turn our favorite bottles of wine into vinegar, we may as well make them into something equally great. Stay tuned for our experiments.

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