While reading through some articles on aperitifs and digestifs I came across an article in which the author was posed the question of what to serve for the imbiber that does not want an alcoholic beverage. This was an excellent question, as unfortunately many restaurants only focus on alcoholic beverages for their before, during, and after dinner drinks.
In most cases, the role of wine is that of an essentially savory sauce in highly liquid form that is pleasant to drink and offers complex taste sensations that complement the meal served. As soon as you start thinking about beverages that way, your own ideas and taste combinations may begin coming to mind.
Several ideas present themselves immediately, unfiltered pomegranite juice, persimmon “beer”, herbal infusions, etc. The one I took the most interest in was the balsamic vinegar spritzer. What is balsamic vinegar and how could it make a good beverage? Let’s take a look.
The original traditional product, made from a reduction of cooked white Trebbiano grape juice and not a vinegar in the usual sense, has been made in Modena and Reggio Emilia since the Middle Ages: the production of the balsamic vinegar is mentioned in a document dated 1046. The names Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena (Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena) and Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio Emilia (Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Reggio Emilia) are protected by both the Italian Denominazione di Origine Protetta and the EU’s Protected Designation of Origin. Balsamic Vinegar of Modena (Aceto Balsamico di Modena), an inexpensive modern imitation of the traditional product, is today widely available and much better known. This is the kind commonly used for salad dressing together with oil.
Traditional balsamic vinegar is produced from the juice of just-harvested white grapes, usually the Trebbiano varietal, boiled down to approximately 30% of the original volume to create a concentrate or must, which is then fermented with a slow aging process which concentrates the flavours. The flavour intensifies over the years, with the vinegar being stored in wooden casks, becoming sweet, viscous and very concentrated. During this period, a proportion evaporates, similar to the aging of fine spirits. None of the product may be withdrawn until the end of the minimum aging period of 12 years. At the end of the aging period, 12 or more years, a small proportion is drawn from the smallest cask and each cask is then topped up with the contents of the preceding cask. Freshly reduced cooked must is added to the largest cask and in every subsequent year the drawing and topping up process is repeated. This process where the product is distributed from the oldest cask and then refilled from the next oldest vintage cask is called solera or in perpetuum. Consortium-sealed Tradizionale balsamic vinegar 100 ml bottles can cost between $150 and $400 each. Lower cost balsamic vinegars are made by a variety of methods, which may include the traditional way but aged less than 12 years, aged longer but by non consortium producers, or made of wine vinegar with the addition of caramel color and thickening. Other than Tradizionale balsamics there are no official standards for aging, packaging, or quality.
So let’s move on to the drink. I only had a little balsamic left in the cupboard, and I have no idea of the cost or quality of it, but I went for it anyways. Simply mix in a few drops of balsamic with sparkling water. I started with a few drops, tasted, added more, until it reached a flavor that I felt was strong enough without being overly acidic.
4oz Sparkling water
1/8-1/4oz Balsamic Vinegar
The flavor is obviously what you would expect of balsamic, but the sparkling water adds some brightness, and accentuates the sweetness of the vinegar. I was not expecting to like it at all, but it was surprisingly good and I ended up having a second glass. This drink does serve as an excellent aperitif, and paired excellently with my rum glazed chicken, and raspberry vinaigrette salad. Try it and let me know what you think.