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blog swirl & savor

Tuscan Vin Santo, A Heavenly Wine

Beth Ribblett

Vin Santo or “holy wine” is produced in a few different Italian wine regions and in fact, Greece, but it’s most famous expression comes from Tuscany.  As with many things in Italy there are lots of tales around how it got its name but whatever the origin the wine dates back to the middle ages and is no doubt heavenly and the perfect end to a nice Italian meal.  

Vin Santo can range from being dry, off dry or on the sweeter side depending on the producer and the vintage. From large producers to small “fattoria” or farms, many people make it although much of it never gets exported but saved for special guests and holidays. The good stuff can be on the pricey side as it goes through a lengthy aging process before it ever literally sees the light of day, which is one of the reasons they are hard to come by.  

And also as with many things Italian, the details are in the process.  In Tuscany Vin Santo is usually made with ripe grapes of the local Trebbiano or Malvasia as the usual suspects. Grapes are picked and left to dry on mats (or hung from the rafters) for a few months before being pressed—the sugar in the grapes concentrates as they slowly turn into raisins. The juice is then fermented and aged for up to ten years in small cigar-shaped small chestnut barrels called “caratelli,” with a starter or “madre” of residue from the previous year’s Vin Santo added to provide a yeast boost.  The barrels are not completely full which exposes the wine to air, giving it its oxidized character and color.

When ready, Vin Santo is rich and golden, sometimes more amber, and viscous, with a scent of apricots and a smooth taste of caramel and nuts. The nutty notes are what make the sweeter Vin Santo perfect with cantuccini - these Tuscan almond biscuits are dunked in the wine, which they soak up beautifully. 

We have 2 in the store right now and it’s hard for me to decide which I enjoy more.  But thankfully I don’t really need to choose :)  Here’s a little about each of them and we’ll be featuring one of these at the bar on February 24 if you’d like to finish with something a little sweet after our Northern Italian Flight with Linda Smith.

Castellare 2007 Vin Santo San Niccolò, Vinous Media 92 points
Readers who like traditional Vin Santo will adore Castellare's 2007 San Niccolo. Almonds, orange peel, cinnamon, mint and leather all meld together in a relatively mid-weight, dry Vin Santo loaded with personality. The 2007 possesses gorgeous inner perfume and texture, yet remains light on its feet and totally classy. When I think of great traditional Vin Santos, Castellare is among the very best. 

Badia a Coltibuono 2008 Vin Santo del Chianti Classico, Vinous Media 91 points
Badia a Coltibuono's 2008 Vin Santo is laced with warm, nutty overtones typical of Vin Santo made with white grapes, in this case a blend of equal parts Trebbiano and Malvasia. High-toned aromatics develop in the glass, along with hints of apricot jam, candied orange peel and floral honey. Drink this bright Vin Santo over the next decade or so.