Vin Santo, or "Holy wine," is a special dessert wine from Italy, typically from Tuscany, yet these days Vin Santo comes from just about every wine region in Italy. It is typically made from grapes dried out on flat, wicker mats and laid out in warm, well-ventilated rooms so the water can evaporate slowly. The wine is generally thought of as a dessert wine, yet you can find some that are quite dry as well.
The name has numerous stories affiliated with its origins, yet the most prevailing stories are of a 14th century cleric who used leftover sacramental wine to heal the sick, as well as the fermentation process for these wines beginning All Saint's Day and bottling around Easter.
The grapes are picked between September and October, and set to dry out, or dessicate, which allows the sugars to become denser. Crush and fermentation can start as early as a few weeks after harvest, or can began as late as March. Starter yeasts can be introduced to begin fermentation quicker - known as a madre - that can be remnants of the previous vintage, and can aid in developing more complexity in the wine.
Aging takes place in small oak barrels, with many producers aging the wine for anywhere from 5 to 10 years (the minimum requirement is 3 years). These wines develop much in the way that a tawny Port would, demonstrating notes of toffee, maple and caramel. Some producers have even begun using non-oak barrels, such as chestnut, juniper and mahogany, increasing the intricate nuances of the wine, a similar approach to making vinegar in the region of Emilia-Romagna in Italy. In some instances, when the wines have become too oxidized, the wine is converted to vinegar (to salvage the product).
While Vin Santo is produced all around Italy, its primary regions are found in Tuscany, where there are 11 of the DOC appellations in this region:
by Kevin Keith
Vin Santo can be hard to find, but we like to keep a few of our favorites on hand: