In a nutshell: A complex, intensely flavoured balsamic vinegar, expertly blended by one of Modena's master craftsmen and matured for 10 years.
Giovanni Leonardi is the fourth generation to produce top-quality balsamic vinegar at the family farmhouse in northern Italy’s wine country.
At each stage of production, he cleaves to the old ways. First, the grapes are only picked by hand, during September and October, to ensure only the best bunches at the peak of their ripeness are selected.
They’re then gently squeezed, so that the bitter-tasting polyphenols from the skins, stalks and pips don’t influence the final product.
Within 24 hours, the juice is cooked in an open-air copper cauldron for at least a day and a half, until it has lost around 70% of its original volume.
From here, Giovanni’s expertise as an assaggiatore (taster) really comes into its own. This cooked grape must is blended with red and white wine vinegars – most of which are also made in his farmhouse acetaia, using grapes grown on the farm.
For a balsamic vinegar to achieve its IGP accreditation, at least 20% of the product has to come from the cooked grape must, as opposed to the added wine vinegars. Giovanni never uses less than 35% in his and has even included up to 75%.
“The must is the richest part of the grape, so we use more of it to increase the quality of our product,” he says.
From here, the liquid is introduced into the balsamic battery, an array of barrels in the farmhouse’s attic, arranged in decreasing size and made of different woods, including oak, ash, juniper, cherry and chestnut.
The barrels are left open to allow the natural concentration of the liquid through evaporation. Over the next 10 years, the liquid is moved along the line, from one barrel to the next.
The finished article is a thick, viscous and glossy balsamic, with a rounded, velvety texture and a complex flavour, influenced by all the different woods it has been aged in.
For many in the know, Don Giovanni balsamics are among the best in Modena being produced by this ultra-traditional producer. And now, as their sole importers into the UK, we are proud to share them with you.
How to use:
Details: 250ml bottle. Also available in 6- and 15-year varieties.
See the other products in the Don Giovanni range: Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena DOP; Balsamidea Balsamic Condiment; Saba Balsamic Condiment; White Balsamic Condiment; and 12-Year-Aged Cherry Balsamic Condiment, a 2-star winner at the Great Taste Awards.
About Acetaia Leonardi:
During spring and summer, the Leonardi farmhouse is a tiny island of terracotta among a sea of lush green. Whichever way you look, rows and rows of grapevines stretch off towards the horizon.
These are the white Trebbiano and red Lambrusco grapes that are the only varieties permitted in making balsamic vinegar, which is produced in small quantities, upstairs in the farmhouse’s attic acetaia.
“It’s an ancient recipe that has been handed down from father to son for at least four generations,” says Giovanni Leonardi. At its heart is the balsamic battery – an array of barrels in the farmhouse’s attic, made from a range of different woods.
“Each wood has its own purpose,” says Giovanni. “Oak gives notes of vanilla. Cherry adds a fruity taste. Juniper bestows spicy notes. Acacia brings honeyed flavours. And chestnut gives it the distinctive rich, dark brown colour.”
The cooked grape juice can spend decades in this battery of barrels and it is Giovanni’s responsibility to judge just the right time to move his precious product from one barrel to the next.
“My role as an assaggiatore, or taster, means I have to be constantly studying, observing and tasting our balsamic vinegar in all the different stages of its production,” he says.
When it’s ready, some of Giovanni’s vinegar is sent to the Consorzio Tutela Aceto Balsamico di Modena, the guardians of traditional, artisan-made balsamic vinegar, where it is bottled and stamped with a seal of authenticity.
Giovanni also bottles some of it himself, which he sells under his Balsamidea brand – passing on some of the savings accrued from not sending it to the Consorzio.
He also produces a white balsamic condiment – great in salad dressings – and truly unique products, such as his cherry balsamic, which spends 12 years in only cherrywood. This rich, aromatic vinegar was rightfully awarded 2 stars in the 2019 Great Taste Awards.
Then there’s his IGP-accredited Aceto Balsamico, in which he judiciously blends a proportion of his cooked grape must with red and white wine vinegars, mostly made using grapes grown on the farm.
“It’s a zero-kilometre, closed-loop production,” Giovanni says. “Everything is done here, from growing and harvesting the grapes, right up to the final ageing and bottling.”
Giovanni is proud to be an ambassador for such time-honoured, artisan-crafted products. “Nowadays, everything is so flat, so many industrially produced products are the same. I try to make a difference,” he says.
“That’s why I get such satisfaction from guarding and carrying on this ancient tradition. I’m thrilled to be a depository of these recipes that have been handed down my family for at least 150 years.”
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