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Tasting Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena

How to understand and enjoy the best quality vinegar

EExamination of the visual character of balsamic vinegar The visual features to be considered are: density, colour and clearness. To each feature it is assigned a score of 20 points.

The olfactory features to be assessed are: straightforwardness, delicacy, intensity, persistence and acidity. To each feature it is assigned a score of 30 points.

Degustazione dell'aceto balsamicoThe gustatory features to be taken into account are: fullness, intensity, taste, harmony and acidity. To each feature it is assigned a score of 36 points.

The composition of the total available 400 points is the following:

  • 15% (60 points) for the visual features;

  • 30% (120 points) for the olfactory features;

  • 45% (180 points) for the gustatory features;

  • 10% (40 points) for the final gustatory/olfactory sensation.

This part of the evaluation form is subdivided into five equivalent columns, each column being characterized by a qualitative adjective referring to each features and by a corresponding figure. (Evaluation form in pdf)

Evaluation form to Traditionale Balsamic Vinegar of Modena DOP
Features Rating scale
Description Max score
Visual Density Thick Syrupy 20
Smooth-flowing Syrupy 16
Too fluid 12
Dissolve 8
Insubstantial 4
Color Very dark brown 20
Dark brown 16
Brown 12
Light brown 8
Amber coloured 4
Clearness Intense and bright 20
Evident 16
Slightly dimmed 12
Dimmed 8
Cloudy 4
olfactory straightforwardness high 30
net 24
fair 18
poor 12
defective 6
delicacy excellent 30
pleasant 24
reasonable 18
scarce 12
lacking 6
intensity/persistence wide and extended 30
strong 24
slight 18
weak and short 12
shifty 6
acidity high balanced 30
good 24
reasonable 18
weak or pungent 12
lacking 6
gustatory/olfactory fullness full-bodied 36
thick 29
reasonable 22
reasonable 15
lacking 8
intensity wide 36
strong 29
slight 22
scarce 15
lacking 8
taste delicious 36
tasty 29
pleasant 22
ordinary 15
unpleasant 8
harmony ripe and well-mixed 36
balanced 29
not balanced 22
scarce 15
lacking 8
acidity high balanced 36
good 29
reasonable 22
weak or pungent 15
lacking 8
final score 40

Visual features

Density

it indicates the consistency and viscosity of balsamic vinegar. It is shown and recognized by the persistence and adherence of the liquid to the wall of the flask by turning it around. It also has to be considered in relation with the concept of syrupy which may be:

  • Thick Syrupy: if the vinegar, by adhering to the the wall of the flask, allows to gradually glimpse the candle light after a reasonably long time.
  • Smooth-flowing Syrupy: if the liquid clearly remains on the belly of the flask itself, but for a shorter time.
  • Too fluid: when the candle flame becomes visible only after a very long time. The evaluation of this time frame is left to the personal assessment of the person who performs the exam.
  • Fluid: the molecules of the sample have low cohesion to one another and are therefore free to slide over each other so that on the wall of the flask only a slight trace is visible in a rather modest time frame.
  • Dissolved: the same above-mentioned cohesion is still present, but in an attenuated form and the molecules find it difficult to leave a trace on the belly of the flask.
  • Insubstantial: the permanence of the liquid on the wall of the flask can not be assessed in terms of concreteness.

Colour

it represents the impression that the light produces on the eye’s taster. The colour of the balsamic is by definition "shiny dark brown”. It is classified as follows:

  • Very dark brow: thistype of sample is on the top of the rating scale due to the visual sensation given by the iridescent and shiny reflections, the intensity of dark colour and the reddish shades. It is assumed that the reddish reflections are due to the presence of some specific components which spontaneously arise during the stages of maturation and aging such as the acetylene and some polysaccharides.
  • Dark brown: the presence of components that arise during an advanced stage of maturity allows the taster to give a fully positive opinion on this chromatic level.
  • Brown: the choice of this designation indicates a positive evaluation and reflects the typical colour of this product.
  • Light Brown: the liquid has no more traces of amber colour and becames darker.
  • Amber-coloured: it specifically represents the typical colour of amber and can be seen, in its various degrees, in concentrated cooked must.

Clearness

this designation is synonymous with transparency to all ray lights and it is linked to the degree of light absorption of the liquid and of the suspended particles. The balsamic vinegar is considered as “clear” if it is possible to clearly see the candle light through the flask. It is is classified as follows:

  • Intense and bright: it is a characteristic of great value, also confirmed by the gloss and shine of the strong and intense dark brown color of the sample.
  • Evident: this term wants to emphasize a clear, concrete and real situation of transparency, at lower levels than the previous one, though, especially as far as brighteness and shine are concerned.
  • Slightly dimmed: the suspended particles create a thin film visually perceptible in the light of the candle.
  • Dimmed: the veil has a remarkable consistency despite the presence of an highly appreciated brown colour.
  • Cloudy: the suspended particles are clear and definite enough to be easily observed.

OLFACTORY FEATURES

STRAIGHTFORWARDNESS:

this feature should be interpreted as the complete absence of interference in the detection of smells, and as the lack of defects due to deficiencies of the product. We define “straightforward” the balsamic that releases its scent and bouquet with great clarity and immediacy. The adjectives of this feature are as follows:

  • High: the taster does not notice any olfactory lack and realizes that the flavours of the balsamic vinegar emerge very naturally and without any interference.
  • Net: it is the case in which the straightforwardness is shown at very high levels but at a slightly lower level than in the previous case as far as immediacy and completeness of the possible impressions are concerned.
  • Fair: this term expresses a general and overall level of quality satisfaction; there may be a belief that the vinegar still needs time to evolve its state and to fully express its real identity.
  • Poor: it is possible to detect unsatisfactory sensations such as the smell of wood, the dryness of the barrel or the smell of some moulds.
  • Defective: whenever it is possible to smell anomalous perfumes due to incomplete or incorrect fermentations or to the degeneration of the product.

DELICACY:

it is conceived as a feature able to assess not only the complex but also the quality of the typical aromas of balsamic. It is examined as follows:

  • Excellent: when the scents are detected at high levels of presence in their full complexity, which is a typical characteristic of mature and aged vinegars.
  • Pleasant: that is precise and certain, but at a lower level than the previous condition.
  • Reasonable: when it is clear that the typical perfumes are still under composition or they weakly appear; this happens when the vinegar has just started ripening, or has an excessive density that doesn not allow the scents to emerge.
  • Scarce: in this circumstance it can be assumed that balsamic vinegar is still in a phase of fermentation and bi-acetic oxidation and therefore smells are still at the beginning of their creation.
  • Lacking: It is possible to identify an olfactory insufficient situation.

INTENSITY:

represents the strength and force with which the flavors of the balsamic occur.

PERSISTENCY:

testifies the time frame during which the scents remain on the taster olfactory mucosa. The scanning of its levels is the following:

  • Wide and extended: the scents provide a completely positive feedback.
  • Strong: when the scents occur in a satisfactory way.
  • Slight: the perception occurs in a mild or temporarily limited way.
  • Weak and short: it is a lower level therefore their recognition is very weak or poor.
  • Shifty: the lack of this feature makes it almost impossible to classify the scents.

OLFACTORY ACIDITY:

it is detectable for the presence of acetic acid, aldehyde and to a lesser extent of other volatile acids which appear during the fermentation. The adjectives are the following:

  • High and balanced: the expression “high” means that the sample reports a high acet degree, while “balanced” describes a typical and exclusive property of the balsamic acidity.
  • Good: it represents a slightly lower level than the previous one, especially in terms of the balance which is here considered as suboptimal.
  • Reasonable: it describes a situation which only approaches the limit of acceptability.
  • Scarce: it outlines a negative evaluation due to evident weakness.
  • Lacking: it is a completely negative assessment; there was no creation of the acetic fermentation.
  • Overwhelming: it is when in presence of an healthy and strong acidity, which tends to overwhelm the above mentioned qualities. However, it is not a completely negative assessment since it is easily possible to fix an intervention to bring it back at regular levels.
  • Pungent: it is a type of acidity that is considered as negative because of the high presence of certain acid components, compared to the standard levels.

GUSTATORY FEATURES

FULLNESS:

is interpreted as the whole of the components that contribute to the formation of the extractive substances. It is necessary to evaluate the sensation produced by the complexity of all the fixed acids, minerals and tannins in relation to the sugars in the liquid. It is assessed by five adjectives, easy to interpret:

  • Full-bodied: when the various components of balsamic vinegar can be identified in such a way as to capture their presence with a level of completeness, richness and balance of sensations.
  • Thick: it describes a high degree of acceptability which is, however, still not an optimal level.
  • Reasonable: it only outlines a partial presence of the various components that contribute to define it.
  • Scarce: it represents a deficient situation because of the only existence of acetic components.
  • Lacking: it indicates a deficient tasting sensation in a very quick time frame.

INTENSITY:

the same considerations already described in the olfactory features are here valid. In this case the taster has to assess the strength with which the various balsamic components create a taste, instead of assessing the perfumes.

TASTE:

this characteristic is closely related to the immediate sensation of pleasure that is felt by testing the sample though the taste buds.

  • Delicious: it expresses the feeling of pleasure, supported by the comprehensive feedback on the completeness and properties that are found.
  • Tasty: when the taster expresses a positive opinion but not a total or complete fulfillment.
  • Pleasant: a wide array of balsamic vinegars are evaluated; they are free from defects and produce in the taster a pleasant sensation but still partially deficient compared to the richness of its organoleptic properties.
  • Ordinary: but certainly not poor or mistakable with other types of vinegars.
  • Unpleasant: in case there were originally some defects due to the poor quality of the used raw material or to abnormal transformation processes occurred during fermentation.

HARMONY:

it indicates the optimal balance that must exist between all the components of the balsamic vinegar, with particular reference to the sugars and the acids. Evaluating harmony means, above all, to express an opinion on the state of two aspects, sweet and acid, which are seemingly contradictory.

  • Ripe and well-mixed: this level of assessment will be chosen in case one of two factors plays its role in perfect harmony with the other, without any kind of overwhelm.
  • Balanced: when the above-mentioned relation is not present at optimal levels; the sweet and sour are recognized as in correct correspondence, but not perfectly matched.
  • Not balanced: it means that the two aspects are present in equal proportion but separate and unrelated to each other so that harmony is still unsatisfactory and far away.
  • Scarce: if one aspect clearly prevails over the other.
  • Lacking: when it is possibile to clearly and excluvely distinguish only one of the two aspects: sweet or sour.

GUSTATORY ACIDITY:

for this property the same considerations already made for olfactory one are valid, only adapted to this circumstance.

FINAL GUSTATORY / OLFACTORY SENSATION

It is an important act connected to the need of reaching an overall assessment of the sample. It is therefore necessary to summarize the arisen sensations by making uniform the assessments on the individual features, the regularity of numerical behaviour, the consistency within the columns used during the examination. The number that results is the definitive classification of the sample.

Theevaluation form concludes with the drafting of an assessment for the producer in order to provide a negative or positive information about the reality of the assessed sample. This information is provided in addition to the number that expresses the overall score assigned to the individual characteristics since, despite the adjectives and listed features, the number itself may not be clear enough to highlight some situations.