Wine Lover's Italy - A Guide to Tuscany's Vin Santo
Italians have developed the knack for making wonderful alcoholic drinks to accompany their desserts, and the result is the many digestivi and dessert wines you will find to end your meal in Italy. One of the most famous examples of this is the delicious Vin Santo, which illustrates how Italians pair a sweet wine with a dry dessert (in the case of Vin Santo with the well-known almond biscotti, or cantucci). The wine sweetens the dessert at the same time the dessert tempers the wine.
So, what is Vin Santo? The name literally means "Holy Wine." There seems little consensus as to how the wine took on that name, perhaps simply because it was used during Mass. In any event, the name has been associated with this type of strong dessert wine for many centuries.
Vin Santo is usually 16-18 percent alcohol, and, even though it is made from white grapes (trebbiano, malvasia, or sometimes grechetto), is deep amber in color from the small casks—either oak or chestnut—in which it is aged. It is produced in various regions, but is known mostly as a Tuscan dessert wine.
How is it produced? First, the grapes are dried through appassimento (see our previous blog the Veneto region's Amarone wine for details on this process). The dried grapes are pressed, the juice made into wine in small batches. The fermentation is slow, as is the aging (Vin Santi must be aged at least 3 years, although some producers will double or triple that), and the yield is a concentrated, amber elixir. (Fun fact: there are versions of Vin Santo made with mixed red and white grapes that yield a rose-colored Vin Santo called occhio di pernice—eye of the partridge).
Depending on the sweetness of the dried grapes, Vin Santi can range from dry to sweet. Production costs are high, yields are low, and this means good Vin Santi can be hard to find outside of Tuscany.
If you find a good bottle of Vin Santo, try pairing it with this recipe for cantuccini, the much-loved hard, almond cookie known by Americans as "biscotti"!
By Peg Kern