Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, or "Vinny" for short. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the technical aspects of winemaking to the fine points of etiquette. I hope you find my answers educational and even amusing. Looking for a particular answer? Check my archive and my FAQs. You can also follow me on Twitter: @AskDrVinny.
Dear Dr. Vinny,
Balsamic vinegar is made of white Trebbiano grape juice. How does it get the dark, inky color?
—Koorosh, Renton, Wash.
If it's real Balsamic, it's all in the aging process. Balsamic vinegar is made from syrup (not wine) that comes from the juice of white grapes (typically Trebbiano, as you mention). This syrup is then fermented and aged slowly in barrels so its flavors become sweet, viscous and concentrated. The oxidation, evaporation, aging and exposure to barrels also turns the color that wonderfully glossy dark brown, and gives it a rich, sweet, pungent flavor.
While balsamic ages (and gradually evaporates), the liquid is transferred to successively smaller casks, becoming more concentrated with each transfer. Sometimes a variety of wood barrels are used so the vinegar can absorb the different flavors. Oak, mulberry, chestnut, cherry, juniper, ash and acacia are the most common.
There are many quality levels of balsamic. The highest is labeled "tradizionale," and is very expensive, sold in tiny bottles and, because it's so concentrated, used in very small amounts (and a little bit goes a long way). The most inexpensive varieties may not be aged in wood at all, being nothing more than ordinary wine vinegar with caramel for coloring and sugar added to mimic the sweetness of better ones. Legally these are not allowed to be called "traditional" or "tradizionale," even if they still say "Aceto Balsamico di Modena".
Do you have a question for Dr. Vinny? Ask it here...
Learn to taste wine like a pro, pull a cork with flair, get great wine service in a restaurant and more
Learn from the experts and get the most out of each sip. Take one of our online courses or take them all—from the ABCs of Tasting to in-depth seminars on Food Pairing, California Cabernet, Bordeaux, Tuscany, Sensory Evaluation and more.
Passionate about wine? Wine Spectator magazine is looking for an enthusiastic copy editor in the New York office.
Sips & Tips | Wine & Healthy Living
Video Theater | Collecting & Auctions
New! Ratings Flash