Spanish Balsamic Vinegar
The origins of Balsamic Vinegar date back to 1046 when the Roman Emperor Henry the Third was passing through the Reggio Emilia region of Italy and received a bottle of vinegar as a gift. Linguistically the origins of the word Balsamic date back to the English Middle Ages as an adjective from the noun balsam, meaning “any substance able to restore or comfort”. (source: Balsamic Vinegars: Tradition, Technology, Trade)
This once rare condiment, fit for an Emperor, is now available in every supermarket, with prices ranging from £0.98p to, the most expensive we’ve found, £2,095 a bottle. The massive price range seems ludicrous. How can a condiment that is used in salads, or to increase the depth of flavour in cooking, be so varied? The answer is of course – not all Balsamic vinegars are created equally.
Ageing of Balsamic Vinegar
This is probably the greatest influencer of price – generally speaking the older something is the more expensive it is likely to be.
The same is true of Spanish Balsamic Vinegar. The ageing groups break down as follows: 12, 18, 25, 50 and 100 + year old. The age also greatly influences the viscosity and depth of the colour. A longer maturation period also ensures the vinegar condenses further.
Many producers mature their vinegar in casks. Traditional balsamic vinegar begins with grape must —whole pressed grapes complete with juice, skin, seeds and stems. The must from sweet locally grown and late-harvested grapes is cooked and left to ferment naturally for up to three weeks; the must is added to wine vinegar and then matured and further concentrated for a minimum of 12 years in a “batteria,” or five or more successively smaller ageing barrels. These barrels are made of different types of wood such as oak, chestnut, cherry, juniper, and mulberry, so that the vinegar can take on the complex flavours of the casks.
Once a year the vinegar is bottled from the smallest cask in the sequence. Each cask is then topped up with vinegar from the next cask up, with the largest cask getting filled with the new yield. None of the casks are ever completely drained. This ageing process is similar to the solera process used for fine sherries, ports, sweet wines, and Spanish brandies. The vinegar gets thicker and more concentrated as it ages because of evaporation that occurs through the walls of the barrels—the vinegar in the smallest barrel will be much thicker and more syrupy than the liquid in the successively larger barrels.
It is this maturation process that infuses the vinegar giving the greater depth and range of flavours. Choice of barrels is crucially important. Some barrels are over 100 years old. American Oak is popular so too are Chestnut wooden barrels. Cherry wooden Barrels will increase the red-fruit attributes, whilst Oak wood will bring out sweet and vanilla tones.
How to buy Balsamic Vinegar
Not sure which type to choose? Think first about your budget, how often you’ll use it and what you’ll use it for.
When buying balsamic vinegar, you mostly get what you pay for. However, there is a lot to be said for personal taste. We are all different, some people prefer Chardonnay whilst others prefer Sauvignon blanc!
If you are looking to pay more for Balsamic consider using it in its purest form on salads or with a little quality olive oil for dipping with bread. If you pay more for your vinegar you will notice a marked difference in the depth and range of the taste – like a good wine. The length of the taste on the palate also improves.
You will notice a difference by sight. The viscosity of the Balsamic vinegar darkens to almost oil-like.
If you are cooking with Balsamic Vinegar, buying expensive vinegar and then burning off the flavours in the frying pan doesn’t make a lot of sense; we would suggest using the cheaper varieties for that.
Tip: Look out for a family name and a real address on the label. It’s can be a good sign.
If you are looking for the most expensive bottle of Balsamic Vinegar, look no further than the 100-year-old LA DAMA Traditional Balsamic!
Not all Balsamic Vinegar is from Italy.
Whilst the origin of Balsamic Vinegar is known to be in Italy, these days the main producing countries are France Italy and Spain. Spain has been producing Balsamic Vinegar for 100’s of years.
Here at Pure Spain we love our Spanish Balsamic Vinegar from Cordoba.
We sell 4 different types, including a delicious white balsamic vinegar.
White Balsamic Vinegar
Whilst the flavours are similar to darker balsamic, white balsamic has a cleaner after taste. Perfect with salads and dressings. It can also be used as an ingredient for flavouring sauces and food dishes, especially rice and fish based recipes. Click Here
12 year old Balsamic Vinegar
Exceptionally fruity and aromatic with a sweet and pleasant aftertaste. It is aged in American oak casks. An exceptional balsamic for the price!
25 year old Balsamic Vinegar
This is a high quality vinegar. Aged in wooden American oak casks for 25 years it displays characteristic and complex flavours of a Pedro Ximénez wine. Click Here
50 year old Balsamic Vinegar
A rare and high quality vinegar. Aged for 50 years in American Oak this balsamic vinegar is sweet, with a stunning array of aromas. It is one of the best balsamic vinegars to be produced in Spain. Click Here