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 Corkscrew  Share this article     Summary of Not Just Wine column  
  Not Just Wine Issue 8, May 2003   
Balsamic VinegarBalsamic Vinegar Wine ParadeWine Parade ClassifiedClassified  Contents 
Issue 7, April 2003 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 9, June 2003

Balsamic Vinegar

The most precious of the Italian condiments is an ancient product rich in aromas and surprising in flavors, few drops of the valuable vinegar are capable of making every dish special

 Before starting to talk about balsamic vinegar it is essential to state some fundamental concepts: traditional balsamic vinegar is not vinegar because it is not produced with an alcoholic liquid but it is produced with a sugary liquid, mosto cotto (cooked must), whereas balsamic vinegar which is usually found in supermarkets is made of vinegar, of more or less quality, to which is added some caramel.

 Traditional balsamic vinegar is produced by using “mosto cotto”, must of Trebbiano grapes, harvested when overripe. During the cooking process, part of sugar may get caramelized although this may happen for just a minimal part of it. The next process, acetification, is done in “acetaie” (literally “vinegar factory”), that are usually placed in garrets and it is made by transferring the vinegar from cask to cask, made of different woods, until the end of the transformation process takes place which usually lasts for about 12/15 years.

 Talking about balsamic vinegar it should be said that there are three different appellations: “Balsamic vinegar of Modena”; “Traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena”; “Traditional balsamic vinegar of Reggio Emilia”, as well as a fourth category, “balsamic condiments”.

 As far as traditional balsamic vinegars are concerned, these are regulated and safeguarded, balsamic vinegar can be produced with concentrated “mosto cotto” to which caramel may be added. Balsamic condiments are not regulated and therefore are not subject of any law.

 During the aging process in cask, sugar is metabolized by yeasts (saccharomyces) and by bacteria (aceto bacteria), at the end of the process, 100 cubic centimeters (3.38 fl.oz.) of liquid gives 75 grams of product (2.6 oz.), some ethanol that, by reacting with acids, gives esters, responsible for aromas.


Short Essay on History

 There is no certainty on how and when balsamic vinegar was made for the first time. Perhaps in a very ancient time someone found out, after a very long time, some forgotten “mosto cotto”, that had a natural acetification process, with its unmistakable sweet-sour taste. The first information about vinegar and “mosto cotto”, seems to be dated back to ancient Egypt, around the third millennium before Christ. Greeks and Romans used it as a condiment and to preserve foods, as well as an ingredient for beverages made of mosto cotto diluted with water, or after it was boiled, it was used as a sweetener as common as honey. In ancient times it was pretty common to mix vinegar and must in order to obtain a sweet-sour taste, those practices are as ancient as more than one thousand years ago. The first documents are dated back to eleventh century where, in a chronicle of monk Donizone, it is mentioned a little cask of the famous “laudatum acentum” (lauded vinegar) that Marquise Bonifacio, Lord of Canossa, gave to King Henry III of Franken, it was 1046. It is more likely that around the year 1228 in Estense's palaces there were casks used to keep balsamic vinegar. In the period of time that goes from centuries twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth, it is certain of the existence of corporations of vinegar makers, whose members had to keep the production and working practices secret. The Reggian Ludovico Ariosto wrote in one of his satires «In my house it is better a turnip than my cooking skills, cleaned and cooked in a spit, which I season with some vinegar and “mosto cotto”».


 Some documents dated back to 1598, that is when Dukes of Este moved to Modena, promoting it to the capital city of the dukedom, balsamic vinegar is often cited and it is also mentioned that the court paid a particular attention for this product which was already known and particularly appreciated as to be used as a gift for very important people. It is said that in the table of the Estense family balsamic vinegar was always present. It was so appreciated and they used it quite a lot, they even reserved the left tower of their palace for the production of balsamic vinegar.

 In the 1700's, balsamic vinegar was known all over Europe, this is proved by the request of an English merchant to the duke Francesco III. The usage of balsamic vinegar, before being appreciated for its organoleptic qualities, was used as a medical treatment. Information about this usage can be read on the “Del governo della peste e delle maniere di guardarsene” (On the treatment of pestilence and on the ways to prevent it) written by Ludovico Antonio Muratori, a studious from Modena, who described in its work some remedies based on balsamic vinegar as an antidote against the fearful disease. The appellative “balsamic” appeared for the first time in 1747, precisely in the “Registro delle vendemmie e vendite dei vini per conto della Ducale Cantina Segreta” (Registry of harvesting and selling of wines for the dukedom's secret cellar). In 1796 in Modena were auctioned the “acetaie” of Duke Ercole III, located in the tower of the duke's palace. Fortunately not all the “acetaie” were sold and in 1859 king Vittorio Emanuele II and the prime minister Camillo Benso Earl of Cavour visited the acetaie of dukedom. It is interesting to note the the prime minister wanted to choose the best casks in order to be transferred to the castle of Moncalieri, however the scarce technical knowledge on how an acetaia should be properly run, completely ruined that extraordinary patrimony.

 Fate wanted that the tradition of balsamic vinegar, passed from father to son, from the families of Modena and Reggio Emilia, from ancient times to now, allowed the surviving of a tradition which did not have any significant change. With regard of this, it should be mentioned that in 1861, lawyer Francesco Aggazzotti, wrote a letter to his friend Pio Fabriani, where he describes in a very detailed way the procedure for the making of balsamic vinegar. Lawyer Aggazzotti dramatically changed the production technique by adopting as a raw matter mosto cotto instead of vinegar made from wine. Since then, this production technique became the tradition for balsamic vinegar and his letter became the “bible” for producers.

 Fausto Sestini in 1863 wrote: «in the provinces of Modena and Reggio Emilia it is made since ancient times a particular kind of vinegar to which the physical appearance and the excellence of the aroma gave it the name of balsamic vinegar». In the nineteenth century it was common to enrich the dowry of noblewomen with casks of balsamic vinegar.

 The first rules for the production were set by law 162 in 1965, whereas the Ministerial Decree of 1995 regulates the production of balsamic vinegar of Modena. In 1983 was issued a decree to regulate the traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena, whereas in 1993, on April 5th, law 93 regulated and distinguished traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena and Reggio Emilia.

 The disciplinary for the culinary condiment known as “traditional balsamic vinegar of Reggio Emilia” requires that it must be produced by “must cooked in direct fire and produced by the pressing of grapes traditionally cultivated in the province of Reggio Emilia”. Grapes used for its production are: Ancelotta, Trebbiano, Occhio di Gatta, Sauvignon, Sgavetta, Berzemino and Lambrusco. For the production of traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena are used: Trebbiano, Lambrusco, Ancellotta, Sauvignon and Sgavetta, cultivated in the province of Modena. It is forbidden the usage of must treated with any additive or substances.



 The production processes for traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena and traditional balsamic vinegar of Reggio Emilia are practically the same. The proper quantity of grapes are capable to producing flavors and aromas which are impossible to create with just one type of grape.

 Must is obtained by pressing grapes and it is subsequently cooked over a gentle and direct fire, in steel opened cauldrons, for many hours, this operation sterilizes the must from any fermenting process. At the end of the cooking process remains about 45% of the product. The final sugar measure is of about 30-36. Before the aging process begins, it is poured in old wooden vats and it is left in demijohns during wintertime in order to decant. In springtime a first alcoholic fermentation takes place followed by an acetic oxidation, helped by aceto-bacteria. This production phase, because of the effects of evaporation, concentrates sugar, nourishment for yeasts (saccharomyces), which transforms sugar into alcohol. The alcohol produced this way nourishes the aceto-bacteria, responsible for the transformation of alcohol into acetic acid. After many months the liquid is drawn and used to fill up the casks of the line. The line is a set of casks made up to 10, 12 or even more elements, usually of different type of woods in order to pass from wood to vinegar different aromas. The most typical woods are, in decreasing order, oak, chestnut tree, cherry tree, ash tree, mulberry tree and juniper, the latter being particularly used because of its inimitable aromas. In some cases wood of locust tree is used as well. However new casks are not suited for the production of balsamic vinegar, it must be used at least for one year in order to allow aceto-bacteria to impregnate wood. Opposite to wine which is kept in cellars having a constant temperature and humidity, balsamic vinegar is aged in garrets and attics where the broader thermal excursion can take place. The winter's cool promotes the decanting process whereas the torrid hot in summertime promotes the fermenting and evaporating process. It is of fundamental importance not to completely fill casks, they must be filled for just 3/4 of their volume, because oxygen promotes the aceto-bacteria activity. Every year must be done the operation of reinforcement, which consists in raising up the level of the liquid in the last cask by using the liquid of the preceding one. The operation of pouring off and reinforcements is strictly done in wintertime, that is during the most cold months of the years, in order not to compromise the limpidity of the product. Only after 12/15 years a minimal quantity of product can be drawn, and this is done in order not to compromise the quality of the entire lot.



 In regard to traditional balsamic vinegar of Reggio Emilia, it is safeguarded by a consortium established in 1986, the Consortium of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Reggio Emilia Producers. In order to safeguard the product, the consortium adopted an exclusive bottle as well as an identification seal that differentiates three different styles “orange seal”, “silver seal” and “gold seal” respectively in order of increasing quality. Orange seal indicates a vinegar having light and delicate flavors, suited for carpaccios and salads as well as being suited for seasoning crustaceans, lamb ribs, chicken breasts and rare meat. Silver seal has an intense aroma, somewhat sweet. It is excellent used as it is for mayonnaise sauce and in sauces for fish or boiled meat, risotto and pasta. Gold seal is an extraordinary and complex product, rich in aromas, somewhat sour and sweet, persistent aromas, and can be used with important cheese, fruit salads, strawberries or cherries, panettone, something to enjoy at the end of the meal.

 As for traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena, it is usually released after a strict and scrupulous examination of the Consortium of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena Producers, which directly stick on every bottle the warrant seal with a serial number. It is bottled in the exclusive bottle designed by “Giugiaro Design” and is classified as: “white cap” which is aged for at least 12 years; “gold cap” extra old which is aged for at least 25 years. It is forbidden to mention in the label any reference concerning the year of production or presumed age of the product.


Use of Balsamic Vinegar

 Balsamic vinegar is a product which is obtained by a long, wise and patient work. Using it for cooking means using a rare and renowned product, therefore it must be wisely used. It is not possible to determine a standard quantity, because every vinegar is different from any other and personal taste are different from individual to individual. Before making use of it, it is best to taste a small quantity of it in order to test its organoleptic characteristics. Experience teaches that it is best to add it at the end of the preparation of a dish, saved when it is used to season raw vegetables. Even the popular wisdom teaches that a spoon per person it is best. During its life, balsamic vinegar has different aging levels, therefore different aromatic characteristics; after 50 years of age it starts losing fluidity while its viscosity increases, however it gets richer in aromatic substances. Such a particular and very important product must be chosen according to the type of food to be seasoned, it must be used according to its characteristics and according to the food it is going to be matched to, for example a young balsamic vinegar will be matched best with raw vegetables and salads, whereas an aged product will enrich best important dishes such as roasted meat, scallops, appetizers, broiled meat and, dulcis in fundo (sweet at the end), strawberries, ice cream and chocolate pies. In dishes that prepared by cooking, it must be added just before the end of cooking, the needed time in order to flavor the dish and in order not to vanish the aroma. In case a warm dish is being served, the balsamic vinegar will be added just before it will be served, experience teaches two ways of seasoning: pour vinegar on the plate before being prepared or, as the plate is prepared, add the precious condiment evenly. It can also be enjoyed at the end of a meal, this time alone, and it is a good digestive. However it must be remembered that balsamic vinegar must be used with moderation in order not to cover other flavors.

 There are many popular beliefs about the “medical” and “cosmetic” use of balsamic vinegar. It is said that a spoonful of balsamic vinegar is good for throat ache. A sip of balsamic vinegar is a good remedy for curing drunkenness. Grandmothers used it diluted with water to soften and enlighten hair. Balsamic vinegar was also used as a disinfectant for wounds and for keeping away mosquitoes. To quench thirst a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar in a glass of water. Balsamic vinegar was also considered aphrodisiac as well as a remedy for back ache and rheumatism.

 As for the keeping, balsamic vinegar does not require any particular attention. It is enough to keep it in a glass container, closed and not sealed, after having being used. There is only one rule that should be obeyed: it must be kept away from substances that emit strong and particular aromas in order not to compromise its fragrance.


 Corkscrew  Share this article     Summary of Not Just Wine column  
  Not Just Wine Issue 8, May 2003   
Balsamic VinegarBalsamic Vinegar Wine ParadeWine Parade ClassifiedClassified  Contents 
Issue 7, April 2003 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 9, June 2003

Wine Parade


The best 15 wines according to DiWineTaste's readers. To express your best three wines send us an E-mail or fill in the form available at our WEB site.

Rank Wine, Producer
1 Capo di Stato 1998, Conte Loredan Gasparin
2 Semillon Sauvignon 2001, Cape Mentelle
3 Teroldego Rotaliano Granato 1998, Foradori
4 Masseto 1998, Tenuta dell'Ornellaia
5 Château Lynch-Bages Pauillac 2000
6 Château Laroque Saint-Émilion Grand Cru Classè 1998
7 Chardonnay 2000, Planeta
8 Shiraz 2000, Plantaganet
9 Muffato della Sala 1999, Castello della Sala
10 Zinfandel Barrel Select Mendocino County 1999, Fetzer Vineyards
11 Sauvignon Blanc 2000, Cakebread
12 Rioja Reserva “Pagos Viejos” 1997, Bodega Artadi - Cosecheros Alavares
13 Colli Bolognesi Pignoletto Superiore “Prova d'Autore” 2001, Bonfiglio
14 Trentino Bianco Villa Margon 2000, Fratelli Lunelli
15 Château Talbot Saint-Julien 1998

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 Corkscrew  Share this article     Summary of Not Just Wine column  
  Not Just Wine Issue 8, May 2003   
Balsamic VinegarBalsamic Vinegar Wine ParadeWine Parade ClassifiedClassified  Contents 
Issue 7, April 2003 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 9, June 2003



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 Corkscrew  Share this article     Summary of Not Just Wine column  
  Not Just Wine Issue 8, May 2003   
Balsamic VinegarBalsamic Vinegar Wine ParadeWine Parade ClassifiedClassified  Contents 
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