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3 Ways to Pick a Great Balsamic Vinegar. How to Know Which Balsamic Is Going to Taste Great!

Updated on May 3, 2009

A Heavy Swirl of Balsamic

Get a real balsamic

Carli Balsamic Vinegar of Modena (250 ml)
Carli Balsamic Vinegar of Modena (250 ml)
This is my favorite inexpensive balsamic. It's great!!!
  • Ever been to an Italian grocery and stared helplessly at groaning shelves of balsamic vinegar (literally hundreds of similar choices)?
  • Ever bought a balsamic vinegar that you just LOVED, and then forgot the brand name – and were never again able to find one as good?
  • Ever wondered why some fool would spend $100 or more on a small bottle of vinegar!?!

Tricky business this balsamic! But taking a minute to understand how to pick a vinegar might just help you to find a bottle you are going to love, that is going to become a regular staple in your kitchen and is going to feature regularly on simply dressed but delicious salads. For a great balsamic, it's worth doing your homework.

Now, I should confess….I'm not an artisanal vinegar craftsperson – nor do I hail from Modena or Reggio-Emilia Italy and I couldn’t pick a trebbiano grape (used to make real balsamic) out of a lineup.

But though I may well be a pretty sorry expert on the production of the vinegar, I have learned a few easy tricks for picking a great supermarket balsamic – and on this side of the pond, this is surely the more important skill set to have anyway!

Artificial balsamics can be cloying, one dimensional and harsh – a far cry from the subtly sweet complexity of a true Modena Balsamic. You may not be in the market for a Modena Consortium (a council of Italian vinegar experts that approves each batch of real balsamic) vinegar, but you at the very least want a balsamic that is produced in the traditional way. You do not want a "fake"!

Here are three ways to help you navigate that grocery shelf and find a bottle you’re going to love!

Balsamic Choosing Tips

1. The Price

This may be a no-brainer – but with balsamic, you get what you pay for. Real balsamics are aged for years, or even decades, in a series of wooden casks. They are produced from real grape must and through the lengthy fermentation and acidification, nearly all of the original volume of the grape must is lost to evaporation. Making a true balsamic is an expensive process, and the older the vinegar - the higher the cost.

You can get a reasonable (small bottle) of balsamic vinegar for about 10$. Stay away from the half gallon jugs at $5.99!!!

2. The Ingredient List

If you see the addition of sugar or any artificial flavorings or colorings – don’t buy it cause it won't taste good.

3. The Age

The production of real balsamic takes time. The production of artificial balsamic does not. A true balsamic is aged for a minimum of 3 years (these are considered young vinegars) and for as long as 50 years. A true balsamic will almost certainly display its age on the label.

Many of the vinegars sold in the 10$ range will be Italian imports produced in the traditional method, but most will not be APIMO or APIRE certified. These certifications are given only to vinegars produced in the regions of Modena or Reggio, and no vinegar is given this certification before it is tasted and approved by a counsel of experts. If you buy an APIMO or APIRE certified vinegar you are buying a guarantee of quality – and probably paying for it too!

That's it. Buy a 10$ bottle of vinegar that has no artificial ingredients or sugar added and that is at least 3 years old and you will more than likely find a vinegar you are going to love!


By the way – my favorite $10 vinegar is Carli Balsamic – it's great!

Balsamic Reduction Recipe Demonstration

How fat is YOUR wallet?!?

What's the most you would spend on a small bottle of balsamic?

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