Need a little sweet in your life? Something to dip your biscotti in?
If so, look no further than the infamous dessert wine, Vin Santo. The wine is renowned in Italy, and its name translates to “holy wine.”
It is a dessert wine that is often used to greet visitors upon arrival, an awakening of one’s palate so to speak, or as a communion wine. Because of its high sugar content, it is best served as an after-dinner beverage alongside some biscotti.
While Vin Santo is made throughout Italy, it is most commonly produced in Tuscany. These wines are intensely rich, with varying degrees of sweetness depending on the producer. A good indicator of sweetness is the wine’s alcohol content. The higher the alcohol, upwards of 18% ABV, the drier the wine will be. Of course, the opposite will also hold true: lower alcohol implies a sweeter wine.
The wines differ from other dessert wines in their flavor profile, in addition to the method in which they are made. Uniquely, they offer intense notes of hazelnut, apricot, honey and caramel, which are layered in a voluptuous full-body mouthfeel.
The process by which the wines are made is antiquated compared to today’s technological wizardry. The method is referred to as the “passito method.” This system requires the grapes to be hung up or laid on mats to dry for several months for the grapes to raisinate. At this point, the raisins are pressed and put into small oak barrels called caratelli, in which the wines rest until natural fermentation begins. Typically, this happens in spring as a result of its warmer temperatures, and they often take years to fully ferment because the temperature fluctuates with the seasonal norms. Yeast thrives and consumes sugars when it is warm and either slows down or stops fermenting during cold winter months, only to re-awaken come spring. Most producers do not top off the caratellis so that the wines are able to slowly oxidize, adding complexity, nuance and flavor.
As mentioned, Vin Santo is produced throughout Italy, with the most notable wines coming from Tuscany. The Tuscan versions are always made with trebbiano and malvasia, which are both white grapes. There is also the rare Occhio de Pernice, which is predominantly made with sangiovese, the grape responsible for Chianti.
As with all of the worlds famous dessert wines – Sauternes, German Ice Wine and Tuscan Vin Santo – the prices reflect the limited yield of wine. Keep in mind it takes an abundance of raisins to make a bottle of wine. Compound that with the fact that fermenting must take years to finish and the prices can quickly become daunting. However, for those who have experienced Vin Santo, it seems as if the cost is irrelevant to their enjoyment and experience. Prices start at $35/bottle and can easily top out over $100 depending on producer and vintage.
Alan Cuenca is an accredited oenophile and owner of Put a Cork in It, a Durango wine store. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.