Santorini Vinsanto

A little taste of history

 


Meet Vinsanto: An ancient winemaking tradition of Santorini, Greece.

Just ask any Santorini winemaker -- Vinsanto (spelled without a space) isn’t a holy wine from Italy, as you may have previously thought.

Throughout history, Santorini rule changed hands, and names, many times.
In the Middle Ages, it came under the control of the Venetians, who used the island as a major Mediterranean commercial hub. Despite the island’s resurgence as a well-known trading port, however, Santorini’s volcanic soils offered little potential for producing valued goods, with the exception of a few.

Wine was a commodity during these times, especially on Santorini, as it was viewed safer to drink than the water itself. In fact, the visiting seamen were instructed to drink a glass of Vinsanto in the morning, due to its alcohol and sugar content. As a result, it was decided that Santorini’s major contribution was to be wine and a focus on vine-growing ensued.

Goods transported from Santorini were labeled “Santo,” denoting its geographic origin from the island of Santorini and wines were labeled “Vin” or “Vino” to denote the contents; thus the name “Vinsanto” was born. These packages were transported throughout the ancient world and, of course, brought back to Italy, where Vinsanto found a home in the Catholic church. Historians speculate that Vinsanto came to be known as Italy’s holy wine through a series of misunderstood statements uttered by the Pope, coupled with the Italians’ use of Vinsanto in religious ceremonies such as first Communion. The Italians adopted many Greek winemaking styles, including that of Vinsanto, and it’s easy to make an obvious correlation between the Italian and Greek styles of the wine.

In 2002, EU legislation ruled that there was enough substantial evidence to prove Vinsanto’s origins, in fact, lay in Santorini. It was then ruled that Santorini be the only appellation able to label its sweet wines as “Vinsanto.” The Italians may only use "Vin Santo" or "Vino Santo" to denote the winemaking style.

Whether you’re familiar with Italian Vino Santo or not, it’s important to understand the differences. Both are incredible wines, but the substantial similarity between the two in modern times is the fact that both wines are made from dried grapes. Ultimately, the two are very different.

Santorini Vinsanto has very specific regulations under the appellation laws of Greece. Vinsanto must be predominately made from the Assyrtiko grape (at least 51%), while for the remaining 49% only two varietals are allowed: Athiri and Aidani, and some small amounts of locally grown native white varieties. Vinsanto is crafted vin doux naturel, meaning it has not undergone any chaptalization -- no added sugars or acid here, it's simply natural. Vinsanto is made from late harvested grapes that have been dried in the sun for 12-14 days. They are then crushed, fermented and then aged for a minimum of 24 months in oak barrels and must achieve a minimum of 9% ABV, though many Vinsanto wines contain more alcohol, typically up to 13%.

Vinsanto is known for its golden-orange to dark amber coloring, with a complex bouquet of dried apricots, golden raisins and other dried fruits, combined with sweet spice and an underlying minerality. Although it is classified as a dessert wine, the high acid of the Assyrtiko and other indigenous grapes grown on the island balance the sugar content to produce an extremely palatable drink that can be paired with a variety of foods.

Despite the never-ending debate over Vinsanto’s origin, it is safe to say that this ancient winemaking tradition isn’t going anywhere. So, what are you waiting for? Pick up a bottle today and taste a little bit of history.

Constance Chamberlain is an avid wine enthusiast working to promote up-and-coming regions such as the wines from Greece and Austria through Brand Action Team, a marketing-consulting agency. She is an active participant within the wine and beverage-alcohol community and frequently attends many tastings and events. Constance was first drawn to wine through her interest in all things cultural, which explains why you can often find her exploring first-hand the terroir of vineyards around the world, including those in Australia, Austria and Greece. She has earned her WSET Advanced Certificate and is a proud member of the Wine Century Club.

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Comments

  • Snooth User: JOANF
    83389 65

    Dear Constance,
    Thank you for pointing out the difference! I had only been familiar with the Italian Vin Santo. I will now have to search out and try the original Greek Vinsanto.

    Mar 09, 2011 at 1:23 PM


  • Snooth User: Anna Savino
    Hand of Snooth
    640513 46,140

    we discovered this on our trip there! we went to gavalas winery and they told us that they still stomped there grapes with their feet only for their Vinsanto! It was delicious and we learned the same.. nice article!

    Mar 09, 2011 at 4:58 PM


  • Snooth User: Mark Angelillo
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    2 6,432

    I also found and enjoyed the Italian Vin Santo on a recent trip to Montepulciano. Thanks for the intro to the Greek, Constance!

    Mar 09, 2011 at 6:25 PM


  • It is worth mentioning the glorious after dinner tradition of dipping cantuccini, the hard, almond Italian biscuits, into vin santo. A dessert in itself...

    Mar 10, 2011 at 3:57 AM


  • Snooth User: cippa
    199041 12

    Another possibility for the name , is Vino di Xantos in Italian translate in Vinsanto for a phoenetic similitude. But the Greek is always present !
    In Italy two regions make Vinsanto are Trentino and Tuscany .
    I'm a producer for myself and like me a lot af people in Tuscany make it too.
    I live in the city of one of the best Vinsanto of Italy , Az. Marini Giuseppe .
    Hi to all.

    Mar 10, 2011 at 4:57 AM


  • Snooth User: karbow
    784889 3

    Informative. I always appreciate being made aware of nuances (Vin Santo v. Vinsanto) and finding the purest (stomping and no chaptalization) wines. Hello to Marini! I hope to produce wines soon in northern lower Michigan, near Hubbard Lake.
    k

    Mar 10, 2011 at 9:10 AM


  • Nice article and a well known fact for many wine lovers.

    But there is another Vin Santo vesrus Vin Santo....

    Also interesting is the fact that the Italian Vin Santo is made in two different ways.

    The classic production method is …. After the grapes destined for Vin Santo are harvested in September or October, they are laid out on straw mats, often under rafters or staircases. They are kept in warm, well ventilated rooms that allow the moisture in the grape to evaporate. This process of desiccation allows the sugars in the grape to be more concentrated. The longer the grapes are allowed to dry and desiccate, the higher the resulting residual sugar levels will be in the wine. Depending on the style of wine desired, the grapes may be crushed and the fermentation process started after a few weeks or not till late March. Producers may use a starter culture of yeast known as a madre that includes a small amount of finished Vin Santo from previous years production. It is believed that this older wine can help jump start the fermentation process and also add complexity to the wine.[1]
    After fermentation the grapes are then aged in small oak barrels. In many DOC regions, the wines are required to age for at least 3 years though it is not uncommon for producers to age their wines for 5 to 10 years. Traditionally the barrels were made of chestnut instead of oak, which contributed high amounts of wood tannins and was very porous which promoted excessive evaporation in the barrel. Under this same traditional style of winemaking, a large ullage or air space would emerge in the barrel and oxidation took place. This gave the wine its characteristic amber color but also flavors and traits that may be characterized as wine faults. Towards the end of the 20th century, more produces began switching to oak barrels while maintaining the tradition of not topping up the barrels and filling in the ullage space. This angel's share still produces some level of oxidation, though not as severe as the style was historically made. Modern winemaking technique also calls for more temperature control and keeping the wine in rooms with a consistent temperature that promotes more fresh flavors in the wine and fewer faults.

    The new style production method is…. also an VDN (vin doux naturel) wine. The process of transferring sugars in to alcohol is stopped by adding alcohol (brandy) so the yeast will die and the (natural) sugar will sweeten the wine (Just the same way as they do in Baumes de Venise and Riversaltes in France for instance).

    Mar 10, 2011 at 11:25 AM


  • nice Amadeus196.. very informative...

    Mar 10, 2011 at 1:03 PM


  • Snooth User: afcain
    238770 3

    The fields of grapes for Vinsantos are SOOOO cool on Santorini - little easter baskets woven to the ground from the vines, with the grapes protected from the winds inside, and making it on little water.

    Mar 12, 2011 at 9:19 PM


  • Snooth User: Corkbouy
    670685 4

    Amadeus1965 - Is that first style of wine to which you refer called "Torcolato" by Maculan? If so, it's not a VinSanto. Please advise.

    Thank you for your very interesting and informative mistle.

    The Italians I am told stole winemaking from the Greeks and I have had many Italian Vin Santo wines from many years and they just don't cut it! Italians make every wine much better than the Greeks. Except Vinsanto.

    As you pass the topless/naked beach on your way to the steap stairs on the coast of the Island of Santorini, and reach the top of the Bluff there is a little shop about 100 yards straight back that has some of the best vinsanto one could ever drink. The little old guy that is the winemaker shows up occasionally and is a cocky fun character. The vinsanto is cheap, the very best, and they fill the bottle fome a big keg right in front of you and put a little tapered cork in it with no label on the bottle. They tell you it's a different vintage year every time you go there. It's a hoot! Don't miss Santorini Vinsanto. The Best of the best!

    Corkbouy

    Mar 21, 2011 at 1:41 AM


  • Ooh! goody I'm of to Santorini in a few days time, armed with a bit more knowledge to
    enjoy the vini culture.

    Jul 27, 2011 at 7:39 AM


  • Snooth User: Pichimale
    1066074 1

    It may sound funny but Italy is processing Vin Santo of vinsanto from Santorini and exporting it to the US with labels that say it was made in Tuscany, because it has more appeal in the US and can charge much more money that if if were Greek. The same is happening with olive oil, imported from Spain, packed in cans or bottles as Italian from Parma or other regions. How about it? The olive oil trade from Spain sold in the US as Italian reached scandal proportions in Italy and several companies were sued almost a decade ago. Vinsanto has not produced any scandals yet but I think it is pretty scandalous to be so dishonest in international trade. We do not do anything about it. Vinsanto from Santorini is great and there is no reason to sell it as Italian. The same is true for Spanish oil.

    Apr 07, 2012 at 2:18 PM


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