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Dear Dr. Vinny,
I have started making wine and now wish to make my own balsamic vinegar. Making wine is easy, as I can get the grapes, grape juice or wine kits to make my own wine. But where can I get the correct juice to make the vinegar?
—Chris, Raleigh, N.C.
To be clear, there’s a big difference between ordinary red wine vinegar and balsamic vinegar. Red wine vinegar is pretty easy to make from red wine. But balsamic vinegar is made from a syrup that’s fermented and aged very slowly.
If you want to make balsamic at home, you’ll need to get some Italian grapes like Trebbiano, Ancellotta or Lambrusco—which, interestingly, are all white wine grapes. You’ll need to ripen them, crush them, and then simmer the must in an open pot for a day or two, until you have an intensely sweet syrup that’s reduced to about half its original volume. Cool it down, then put it in a barrel and don’t touch it for six months or a year, minimum. You can either add a vinegar “mother,” or let the yeasts occur naturally. First the concoction will need to turn into alcohol, and then it converts to vinegar.
OK, now you have vinegar, but you don’t have balsamic yet. You need to age it more—about 10 years more. As it ages (and gradually evaporates), transfer it to successively smaller casks. Usually, different types of wood barrels are used so the vinegar can absorb the different flavors, like oak, mulberry, chestnut, and more.
So, whew! That’s a lot of work, and if you try to replicate these steps at home, I’m not sure what you’ll end up with. The good news? Suddenly, the price of a bottle of decent balsamic doesn’t seem so expensive!
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