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I have an unopened bottle of balsamic vinegar of Modena in my cupboard for about 10 years. Can I still use it? I don't see an expiration date. I know that these are aged but once bottled, is there a safe time before it has to be thrown out? Is there a star rating for balsamic vinegars?
Vinegars generally keep very well and especially the better quality balsamic vinegars. This should be safe for you.
True balsamic vinegar is made from the Trebbiano grape and its rich brown color comes from aging in wood casks, often for decades. Although it is made from grapes, balsamic vinegar isnt produced from wine (as is wine vinegar). The authentic product may not contain any wine vinegars. The grape juice is simply reduced and then made directly into vinegar.
The closest that you will find to a "star rating" is by the consortiums of Modena and Reggio Emilia. They are the only guarantee of authentic aged balsamic vinegar, as both of these groups have strict rules of inclusion in the consortium as well as guidelines for vinegar quality.
The Modena consortium designates their products by bottling in a squat round bottle and one of two capsules to seal the cork. A white capsule indicates vinegar that is at least 12 years old and gold foil is for vintage vinegarsthese have aged at least 25 years and carry the designation "extravecchio".
Reggio Emilla vinegars are bottled in a bottle with a long thin neck and have a round label to designate vintage. Red seals, like the white capsule, indicate at least 12 years of ageing. Silver are for 18 years and older and gold for those vintages of 25 years or more.
The thin product that is on most store shelves today is a manufactured by combining conventional white wine vinegars with colorings and flavorings.
Thanks for writing,
Timothy S. Harlan, M.D.