Under the North wall of the Castello is the long, impressive balsameria. It resembles a wine cellar in miniature where Banfi's balsamic vinegar, Salsa Balsamica Etrusca is blended and aged in a modified soleras system.
Salsa Balsamica Etrusca, far more refined than simple wine vinegar or today's inexpensive, mass produced balsamic vinegar, is a craftsman's creation made according to traditional methods dating back to the ancient Etruscans. The process begins with fresh must (the pressed juice of wine grapes), which before it would naturally ferment into wine is instead simmered over low heat and reduced to nearly half its original volume. The finished juice is transferred into 100 liter oak barrels for one year of aging. Then the balsameria takes over.
At the heart of the soleras aging system are tiered batteries of five barrels, each of differrent size and type of wood: Oak (60L), Chestnut (50L), Cherry (40L), Ash (30L), and Mulberry with Juniper heads (25L). Each wood imparts various, splendid flavors to create a unique taste. Every year, only 3 liters of balsamico is transferred from each barrel into the next, successive barrel.Successive barrels decrease in size because some balsamico is lost to evaporation each year.
Banfi's modified method of long aging turns the simmered grape juice into glorious balsamico, with its regal dark color, heady perfume, rich viscosity, beguiling taste. Try a few drops on fresh strawberries, hardy cheeses, and even vanilla ice cream. You'll agree the wait was worthwhile.
A few words about the name. Balsamico has nothing to do with balsam, though there are woodsy notes in its fragrance. And instead of Aceto Balsamico, Banfi uses the name Salsa Balsamica Etrusca, which recalls the great pre-Roman empire that created balsamico and gave Tuscany her name.
Castello Banfi's Salsa Balsamica Etrusca is available in the estate's enoteca and on the Italian market only. Since it is produced in very limited quantities, it is not exported to the United States.