Vin Santo is literally translated as ‘the wine of saints’ because it is just that – out of this world. In basic terms it is a blended and aged desert wine which is a specialty of the Italian wine culture. Vin Santo is produced primarilty in Tuscany, Umbria, Veneto and Friuli-Venezia-Giulia. In Tuscany – Trebbiano Toscano, Malvasia and Canaiolo are most common grapes in the blend. Sometimes Sangiovese will factor in with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. In Veneto, Garganega and Gambellara grapes are used, and in other regions, local white grapes are preferred in the blend.
The ripe grapes are hand picked during the months of October and November when they have rotted (or undergone botrytis). The grapes are then removed by bunches and are hung from the rafter or vinsantaie – a room that has many windows that allow for veracious air circulation. Once the grapes have dried sufficiently (which can take many months, sometimes falling into January), they are pressed and the juice is poured into caratelli (small chestnut barrels) for fermentation. After the initial fermentation, the wine is racked, the caratelli is sealed, and everything is placed under the roof of the winery. Here the wine is subjected to many seasonal temperature changes, which creates a unique taste and texture to the wine.
Vin Santo’s are generally sweet but some wineries produce dry versions. All are very high in alcohol and viscous in texture, yet smooth and intensely flavored. Italians like to enjoy Vin Santo with deserts like lemon cookies, biscotti, or fresh seasonal fruits.