How to Taste Balsamic Vinegar Like an Expert

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How to Taste Balsamic Vinegar Like an Expert

Just like truffle oil, the market is stuffed with balsamic vinegar options and a trip to the grocery store can be overwhelming. How do you know whether what you’ve bought is worth what you paid for it?

Here are some tips from experts to help you tell the difference.

Ingredient Lists are Powerful Clues

Most of the balsamic on the market is “condiment” grade, which can range from excellent to terrible (read how balsamic vinegar is made for details). How do you tell the difference in a shop?

The ingredient list can be a very helpful clue. Quality vinegar producers do not use caramel coloring, artificial thickeners, etc. If you see anything on the ingredient list besides “grape must” “red wine vinegar” and maybe “sulfites”, put the bottle right back on the shelf.

What About Age?

Age of the vinegar can be an indicator of relative quality, especially when deciding between vinegars from the same producer, but it isn’t a guarantee. Under Italian law producers aren’t allowed to print the year on the bottle anymore (because some companies were being misleading), so it’s often not available when browsing at the grocery store.

We provide ages for our vinegars in our vinegar guide.

What to Taste & Look For

High quality aged balsamic vinegar should be naturally thick and dark with a balanced complex fruity-tart-deep grape flavor. The balance is extremely important – the acidity & sweetness should ideally blend together seamlessly and work in harmony. The finish should be clear & clean, but linger deliciously.

The longer a balsamic has been aged, the less tart it is likely to be (they should all have an acidity of 6%, but the acid’s effect should be less pronounced as the vinegar concentrates).

Affinato & Extra Vecchio Balsamic Vinegars Will Always Be Good

Affinato and Extra Vecchio vinegars are the most expensive grades, but you can be sure what you’re getting is excellent. They are very tightly controlled and must pass an extremely stringent taste test before the Balsamic Consortium allows them to be bottled.

Browse More:
How Balsamic Vinegar is Made
A Guide to Our Balsamic Vinegars
How to Taste Truffle Oil Like an Expert