Sheila and I recently had an opportunity to visit the producer who ages balsamic vinegar for Gourmet Living. As most vinegar enthusiasts are aware Traditional Balsamic vinegar consists 100% of wine must. By regulation traditional vinegar must be at least 12 years old and is both tested, bottled and sealed by the wine consortium. Needless to say, traditional or DOP certified vinegar is quite expensive and generally used only for special occasions.
IGP certified vinegar consists of wine must and varying percentages of wine vinegar. By law, IGP balsamic must be aged at least 90 days, but there are huge differences in the quality of balsamic vinegar sold to the public. The lower grades have a high percentage of wine vinegar and are often sold in grocery stores as “vinaigrette” suitable for salad dressing. They often appear to be quite thin and watery. Those vinegars that are more viscous generally have a higher concentration of wine must, but some unscrupulous producers add caramel to make the vinegar more syrupy. It is wise to purchase aged balsamic vinegar only from established and reputable suppliers.
One of the major differences between aging table wine and the wine must used in balsamic vinegar of Modena is that wine must is aged in open barrels. In effect, it is exposed to the elements and breathes as it matures. Needless to say, a certain percentage evaporates each which causes the vintner to transfer a certain amount (generally 2/3s) to a smaller barrel in the battery each year. The photograph above shows open barrels covered by a small cloth to protect the liquid from insects.
In the image below is a battery of increasingly smaller barrels where the vinegar is transferred each year (normally in January or February). Also, it is important to bear in mind that wine vinegar is generally added to the wine must and it is important to how, where and for how long this wine vinegar is stored before it is mixed with the wine must.
When considering purchasing high quality vinegar, consider purchasing Gourmet Living’s balsamic vinegar of Modena.
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