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Dining: Sour Grapes

When Ermanno Goldoni was born 57 years ago, his father boiled white, sugary Trebbiano grapes in a vat and poured the liquid, or must, into an oak barrel to begin the oxidization process that would turn the concoction into genuine Modena balsamic. Ultimately, the barrel became a wedding gift to Goldoni, who in turn created a wedding gift barrel of balsamic 25 years later for his own son. Five years ago Goldoni concocted an additional wedding barrel for his new nephew. And so goes the Italian tradition among Modena’s balsamic vintners, whose highly concentrated Aceto Balsamico (aged 12 years) and Aceto Balsamico Extra Vecchio (aged more than 25 years) “only get better with age,” according to Goldoni. (He also says the same thing about himself.)

These days Goldoni’s acataia, or vinegar loft, which is located in a low-ceilinged attic in an apartment building in the center of Modena, is filled with more than 100 barrels of balsamic of various ages and potencies. Each juniper, mulberry, ash, and oak barrel—all handmade by Goldoni on the premises—is running over with must. Goldoni moves the vinegar from one type of barrel to another, so that it can pick up flavors from each of the different woods. Modena and the surrounding countryside, the heart of the balsamic trade, is filled with men such as Goldoni who dabble in their vinegar lofts like scientists in their laboratories.

Balsamic is unlike other vinegars, which have an alcoholic base, because it is produced from the grape juice before it begins to ferment. The juice is boiled and barreled, and over the course of many years, microbiotic and enzymatic modifications produce an optimal balance of fragrance and flavor that for some is reminiscent of spoiled molasses.


You do not need to be a vinegar connoisseur to select a superior balsamic; simply look at the label and the shape of the bottle. Balsamics carrying the made-in-Modena seal have passed an inspection by the Modena-based Consortium of Producers of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar, which tests, rates, and places its seal of quality label on specially designed carafe bottles of balsamic that achieve a taste score of 250 points or more. Goldoni’s last tasting received a score of 337, making his varietal one of the most highly rated—at $35 to $100 an ounce depending on age, it is also among the priciest. Because of the limited quantities in his attic, Goldoni sells fewer than 100 bottles a year, mostly to friends and a few important Italian specialty stores.

“I don’t do this for the money,” he says. “Just for enough to buy new grapes.”


Ermanno Goldoni, +39.059.5654.78

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