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Vin Santo

Vin Santo is among Italy's and, in particular, Tuscany's highest valued wines. This golden or amber "holy wine" is produced in almost every vineyard in the region and is mostly enjoyed locally on special occasions. Some believe that the dry version is the most authentic, but the sweet one is extremely interesting and is used also at the Catholic Mass.

Vin Santo is the classic Italian dessert wine made from dried grapes, and the drying process takes place traditionally on everything from plastic or wire mesh to rush or bamboo mats. Other producers hang grape bunches on the wire in special drying rooms. Regardless of the method, the selected grapes are hung for drying (appassimento) on the aforementioned racks or from ceiling beams.

The cumbersome production process starts by selecting white grapes such as Malvasia del Chianti, Trebbiano Toscano and Grechetto. It is permitted to further add local white grapes.

During this process, any rotten grapes are discarded, and the remaining grapes naturally generating a higher sugar content and thus a higher alcohol content.

After a certain drying time, for example. between after 1 December of the harvest year and after 31 March of the year following the harvest, the semi-dried grapes are pressed and the juice is poured into small chestnut, oak, pear or cherry barrels (caratelli), which often contain a bit of almost thick must (madre) from the last production. This brings the must further assistance to the long fermentation.

The fermentation takes place in well-ventilated chambers (vinsantai), which has the advantage that the must ferments under widely varying and varied conditions. This is important for the wine, which throughout the long period of aging both "brands" summer heat and winter cold. At the same time, wine oxidizes, developing nut and mushroom aromas.

In the past, barrels were sealed with cement, which could only be broken when the wine was ready (or almost turned to vinegar). Today, people prefer to control the process continuously by having access to the barrels throughout the entire process. Sealing the barrels is still used, but now it is done with wax.

When everything goes right Vin Santo is an exceptionally delightful aperitif or dessert wine, and as previously mentioned, it is at its peak one of Italy's most exquisite dessert wines.

In addition to the white/golden Vin Santo, there is a type made from red grapes, and they are known by the name of 'Occhio di Pernice' which is added on the label.

See, for example, Vin Santo di Montepulciano Occhio di Pernice.

The taste of Vin Santo ranges from dry to semi-dry and semi-sweet to sweet and the minimum alcohol content is usually 15.5%. The storage and aging potential can be enormous, mostly from 10 years up to 20 years.

The greater alcohol content appears mostly naturally, and if it should end up with a higher percent, in this case the producer will not mention it on the label (of tax reasons). If "Liquoroso" is added on the label, pure alcohol is added to the wine.

Vin Santo is enjoyed in the quiet moments, to desserts and to the famous almond cakes "cantuccini" which are dipped into the wine.

Finally a little advice: Bring a bottle of Vin Santo as a gift when you visit an Italian. It will be a strong expression of close friendship and appreciation.

Did you know?

Italy extends over 10 latitudes – from continental climate to subtropical climate?