The Reason Aged Balsamic Vinegar Di Modena Is So Pricey

"A rich, complex sweetness that explodes in the mouth with notes of fig, molasses, cherry, chocolate, or prune."

Is this a tasting note for the velvety, sweet Spanish sherry Pedro Ximénez (via Sherry Wine)? Nope. That mouth-watering description from Serious Eats describes traditional balsamic vinegar, made to exacting standards and originating from one of two Italian provinces: Reggio Emilia or Modena. Traditional balsamic vinegar goes through an aging process similar to a sherry such as Pedro Ximénez — and it can be much more expensive. Aged balsamic vinegar di Modena is among the most expensive vinegars in the world (via TrvlMike). For example, a 100 ml bottle (a mere 3.4 ounces) is available online from Enoteca Properzio for more than $300. 

Selecting a balsamic vinegar di Modena is similar to finding the right wine. As described by Rouxbe, considerations include the origin and quality of the grapes, and how long the vinegar is aged — from 12 years at least, to 150 years or more. Balsamic vinegar di Modena has one ingredient only: grape must, which consists of pressed grapes with the skin and seeds included (via New York Magazine). The must is concentrated over a low flame, per Traditional Balsamic Vinegar, then fermented over many years in as few as five or as many as nine wooden casks of decreasing size. The must takes on the flavors of the wooden casks, usually made from oak, chestnut, cherry, mulberry, and juniper, according to Use Balsamic Vinegar.

To find true balsamic vinegar di Modena, look for the bulb-shaped bottle

Aged balsamic vinegar di Modena cannot be made by cutting corners. It is produced under strict regulations, overseen by the Consortium for the Protection of Balsamic Vinegar of Modena. Traditional balsamic vinegar also carries a certification from the European Union, guaranteeing its quality and place of origin, according to Serious Eats. This authentic vinegar is as rare as it is pricey, with only about 20,000 bottles produced annually (via Italy Magazine). Real balsamic vinegar di Modena is only sold in a bulb-shaped bottle, and it will carry the European Union stamp.

During Season 1, Episode 3 of CNN's "Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy," Tucci visited Gran Deposito Aceto Balsamico Giuseppe Giusti in Modena, Italy, where the Giusti family has been producing traditional balsamic vinegar since 1605, according to the vinegar maker's website. As Tucci savored a spoonful of 25-year-old balsamic vinegar, his host held up a one-liter bottle: "Imagine that to get one liter of this, you need to start from 100 kilos of grapes."

That's about 220 pounds of grapes — and 25 years — for one liter. No wonder it's so ridiculously expensive.