Vin Santo is not so well known and is not cheap but boy, it is good! This unfortified sweet white wine is produced in the vineyards of Pomino, Carmignano, Bolgheri, Chianti Classico and Montepulciano in Italy’s picturesque Tuscany region. One sip and you’re in heaven!The wine is a passito, which means that the wine has been made with grapes, (Trebbiano and Malvasia), that have been left to air dry on mats which results, as you can guess, in the grapes becoming raisin-like and sugar packed.
The grapes are then crushed and put into very small (generally 50 litres) barrels called ‘caratelli’ together with the ‘madre’; a little wine left over from the previous year, which itself contains a tiny quantity of wine from the previous year…. and so on. After a slow, nay a very slow, fermentation, the juice stays locked in the caratelli for years; 3 to 6 years is not unusual. As time drifts slowly by the colour deepens from lemon to gold to become amber nectar.
As you’ll have worked out, Vin Santo means ‘The Holy Wine’, a name that was borne in Italy’s northern Trentino region. “Hold on”, I hear you say, “thought you said it was made in Tuscany”. Vin Santo is also made in Trentino in the north of Italy and importantly, there are a couple of differences between the “V.S” sweeties of Tuscany and Trentino. Questions coming to a quiz near you…
Firstly, the winemakers of Trentino call their wine Vino Santo, (not Vin Santo) and whereas the Tuscans dry their grapes on mats, in Trentino the grapes are generally dried on their bunches left to hang in airy wineries, traditionally until Holy Week, just before Easter. Hence the religious link.
But be careful, there is very little consistency when it comes to Vin Santo as each winemaker has his or her own way of making this little piece of heaven. It may be sweet, medium sweet or even dry but that said, I’ve never tasted a dry one.
The Italians love drinking their Vin Santo with cantuccini, those very hard almond biscuits that come in noisy cellophane packets; the amazing combination of Vin Santo’s apricot, nut, honey, fig and caramel flavours with the almond infusion will take you right up those shimmering stairs and through the pearly gates.
Sweet wines may be losing their popularity but ignore the trend and pull the cork on a bottle of Vin Santo, or Vino Santo, with friends and…. clock their faces after that first amazing sip.