What is the best (affordable) real balsamic vinegar?

Preferably available in NYC.

Julie Briggs


Jan W. October 11, 2017
Go to DiPalo's (200 Grand St., Manhattan) and ask either Lou or Sal DiPalo (both of them are frequently in the store) about balsamic vinegar. You'll get a substantial but not long-winded crash course about the different grades and origins of balsamic vinegar - if there happens to be a bottle of Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale open (also frequent), they'll be more than happy to have you try it.

Here's the basic run-down:

Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale DOP comes from two areas, Modena and Reggio Emilia. Both are decidedly excellent, but also different. Reggio Emilia tends to have slightly more acidic top notes and is usually sweeter - this makes it great for desserts (especially roasted fruits). Modena tends to be more rounded and less acidic, and more savory rather than sweet. Also a lot of ABT Modena DOP producers tend to use a succession of barrels made of different species of woods to impart a small amount of flavor, so you may also detect some resiny wood notes as well, but its never more than just a hint in the background.

In general, Modena tends to have a higher retail price than Reggio Emilia, but that's not really an indicator of quality.

ABT Reggio Emilia comes in 3 age grades, or ribbons - aragosta (bronze/red - aged for 12 years (the minimum by law), argento (silver - aged up to 20 years), and oro (gold - 25 years or more). Naturally the retail price increases with respect to the age of the balsamico. All ABT Reggio Emilia comes in a somewhat slender half-hourglass shaped 100 ml bottle.

ABT Modena comes in two age grades - Argento (12 years) and Oro (25 years - 'extra vecchio). All ABT Modena comes in 100 ml round orb shaped bottle with a short neck and a flat pedestal foot on the bottom.

If you look like you're paying attention at DiPalo's, you might be able to get a bottle of aragosta ABT Reggio Emilia for as low as $25. Argento would probably run you around $80-100 depending on the brand. Modena would probably be $75 for Argento and $150 for Oro, varying on brand. However, if you're using it for cooking, the aragosta Reggio Emilia is still of excellent quality and a little goes a long way. If you're using it for tasting with cheese or as condiment on desserts or ice cream, I would spurge for the argento just for the added thickness and complexity that would come through.
Marian October 9, 2017
I (and my family and friends) love Fairway's Super Premium Balsamic Vinegar of Modena. I have to stockpile it for relatives who live out of state to take back with them when they visit.
dinner A. October 2, 2017
I found this article useful -- it breaks down the three major classifications of balsamic vinegar (they are all 'real' but guarantee different things and command very different prices): http://www.seriouseats.com/2014/05/everything-you-need-to-know-guide-to-balsamic-vinegar.html
I've bought relatively inexpensive IGP balsamic vinegar (least expensive type, less thick and syrupy than the super-expensive classic stuff, also least controlled) that I thought was very good at Formaggio Kitchen. I don't remember the brand and they may carry a different kind now, but I trust them to carry a good example. They sometimes have bottles open of oil and vinegar behind the counter for tasting.
foofaraw October 2, 2017
I like Trader Joe’s Aceto Balsamico di Modena I.G.P. – Balsamic Vinegar of Modena (red label - gold frame).
Julie B. October 2, 2017
Thank you! I will check it out.
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