What is Vin Santo?
Among the most known and consumed passito wines in Italy there is the Vin Santo (you can translate it Holy wine). It has rich aromas and different shades of taste and it is produced in different areas of the Italian peninsula (from Umbria to Emilia Romagna, up to some areas of Verona), but it remains a Tuscan specialty, where it is made for centuries and where there are a lot of variations linked to the grape harvest area. We can mention the classic Vin Santo of Chianti, Vin Santo of Chianti Colli Aretini, Vin Santo of Chianti Colli Fiorentini, Vin Santo of Chianti Colli Senesi, Vin Santo of Chianti Montalbano, Vin Santo of Chianti Montespertoli, Vin Santo Santo of Chianti Colline Pisane and Vin Santo of Chianti Rufina. Generally this sweet wine is the result of two different types of grapes that together are great: we are talking about Trebbiano and white Malvasia, both typical vines of the Tuscan territory, which respectively confer acidity and structure to the final product. Also very popular is the one called Vin Santo Occhio di Pernice, which follows the same production method as the classic version, but it is made with black grapes like Sangiovese, Malvasia Nera and Canaiolo.
How you do it
Vin Santo’s manufacturing process is particular and it’s really different from the classic method of production of white and red wines. After a careful manual selection that allows identifying the best ones, the grapes are taken to a well-ventilated room (that is called appassitoio) and placed on reed racks or in a plastic basket one above the other where the drying phase begins. This period is not standard but it depends on the type of wine you want to produce and on the sweetness you want to give to the passito: the more time passes, the more the water in the grapes will evaporate increasing the sugar concentration inside them. At the end of this second phase, the bunches are de-stemmed and squeezed and the grape must is left to vinify and age (this is mandatory) in small wooden barrels (in Italy we call them caratelli) of a maximum capacity not of 5 hectoliters. The aging period can be determined as concluded on 1st October of the third year following the grape harvest, when it will reach a minimum total alcoholic strength by a volume of 15.5%.
The curious story of his name
The story of this wine and the birth of its name is really nice. It is not easy to explain because it derives from the Latin term santus which in Italian has become santo (in the English language holy). We know for sure that Vin Santo has a very long history behind it and, in Tuscany, it belongs to the collective memory that evokes a peasant civilization that has now disappeared, characterized by the figure of the sharecropper and the farmhouse family. The first citations about this wine begin to Christianity age (1st century AD), for a type of wine particularly suitable for the rite of the Mass.
According to a legend of Siena, in 1348, the plague spread year, a Dominican friar gave this wine to the sick people to bring them some relief: from here the belief that it was a miraculous and so a holy wine. Another interpretation wants the birth of the name back to 1439, the year of the Ecumenical Council wanted in Florence by Pope Eugene IV. In a banquet a sweet wine was served and the Cardinal Bessarione exclaimed: “but this is xantos!”, because of the similarity that this one had with the one produced on the island of Xanto, which was transformed by people present in the Latin adjective santus (holy). Other people trace the etymology of the word to the production cycle of Vin Santo linked to the periods of the most important religious holidays in the Christian liturgical calendar.
Pairings you have to try
This wine has a sweet smell and taste, which reminds the notes of raisins, dried figs, walnuts, honey and in some cases of quince jam, dates, almonds and candied fruit and for this reason Vin Santo is often proposed at the end of the meal, as a dessert wine, with special pairings like Cantucci of Prato (biscuits with almonds), Ricciarelli of Siena or a slice of apricot pie. Many Italians like to dip cantuccini biscuits in Vin Santo but actually the winemakers and the critics explain that it would be better not to: in fact the biscuits would alter the aromas and flavors that the producers have struggled to obtain. But Vin Santo is excellent to be enjoyed also with savory dishes: we suggest to you the pairing with toasted bread and chicken liver (another typical recipe of the Tuscan tradition) or, in the case of a rather dry type of Vin Santo, it is also recommended with aged cheese and blue cheese. We suggest you taste it in small glasses at a serving temperature between 8 and 12 °C.
In Poggio al Bosco winery we love making Vin Santo because this wine has the flavor of tradition and of peasant authenticity and we are proud to continue to produce it to carry on the family’s history. For this reason we have been making Chianti Vin Santo for years following the same guidelines and the same secrets that our grandparents taught us, respecting at the same time the modern regulations. We use exclusively white grapes (Malvasia and Trebbiano), which once harvested follow their particular processing phase. We put the grapes in plastic baskets and we let them dry for months in a specific room. Then we proceed with the pressing and we leave the grape must ferment for a minimum of 3 years in special little wooden barrels named caratelli in Italy. Caratelli are hermetically sealed so, during the fermentation, we can create a high pressure inside them and we place them in a high part of the room so the grape must be subject to strong thermal excursions that make the fermentation process slow and different. We never add sugar to our Vin Santo (that is also prohibited by the rules). After three years we have a sweet wine with an amber color that has an intense aroma of dried fruit and a harmonious and velvet taste.