Vin Santo

Though technically a dessert wine, the Vin Santo can vary in sweetness levels from bone dry to extremely sweet. Although the style of making wine from dried grapes has been around almost as long as wine has been made, there are many theories on how the particular name Vin Santo or "holy wine" came to be associated with this style of wine in Italy. The most likely origin was the wine's historic use in religious Mass, where sweet wine was often preferred. One of the earliest references to a "vinsanto" wine comes from the Renaissance era sales logs of Florentine wine merchants who widely marketed the strong, sweet wine in Rome and elsewhere.
There are a lot of Vin Santos being produced. Very little of it is worth drinking (or buying). There is much industrial swill and rumors abound about artificial coloring, the wine being spiked with grain alcohol to raise alcohol levels and other less than savory practices. The wines fortified with grape spirit added during fermentation, like Port,  are usually labelled as Vin Santo Liquoroso.
The best Vin Santo is made in a very old and traditional method. Traditional in Tuscany, the Vin Santo is often made from white grape varieties such as Trebbiano and Malvasia. It may also be described as "straw wine" since It is often produced by drying the freshly harvested grapes on straw mats in a warm and well ventilated area of the house; several producers dry the grapes by hanging them on racks indoors. This process of desiccation allows the sugars in the grape to become more concentrated. The longer the grapes are allowed to dry and desiccate, the higher the resulting residual sugar levels will be in the wine. Depending on the style of wine desired, the grapes may be crushed and the fermentation process started after a few weeks or a few months. Producers may use a starter culture of yeast known as a "madre" that includes a small amount of finished Vin Santo from previous years production.
After fermentation the grapes are then aged in small oak barrels (the "caratelli") at least 3 years though it is not uncommon for producers to age their wines for 5 to 10 years. Traditionally the barrels were made of chestnut instead of oak, which contributed high amounts of wood tannins and was very porous which promoted excessive evaporation in the barrel. Under this same traditional style of winemaking, a large ullage or air space would emerge in the barrel and oxidation took place. This gave the wine its characteristic amber but also flavours and traits that may be characterised as wine faults. Towards the end of the 20th century, more producers began switching to oak barrels while maintaining the tradition of not topping up the barrels and filling in the ullage space. This angel's share still produces some level of oxidation, though not as severe as the style was historically made. Modern winemaking technique also calls for more temperature control and keeping the wine in rooms with a consistent temperature that promotes more fresh flavours in the wine and fewer faults.
Some producers will still use non-oak barrels, such as chestnut, juniper and cherry wood and may even blend batches of Vin Santo aged in different wood barrels together. This has the potential of giving the wines more layers of complexity.
Vin Santo is made in many parts of Italy, but the best of these come from Tuscany.

There is one other very unique aspect to the making of Vin Santo. The barrels do not sit in a cool cellar. Rather, they are stored in the hot attics of the winery where the wine is exposed to the heat of summer and cold of winter. Making good Vin Santo is truly an act of faith because the barrels are not opened until the wine is ready.
The number of Vin Santo producers is declining rapidly because of the difficultis and risks of its production and because of the aggressive competition of many low quality Vin Santo Liquoroso.
There are three recognized DOC’s in Tuscany for Vin Santo. They are: Vin Santo del Chianti (created in 1997), Vin Santo del Chianti Classico (1995) and Vin Santo di Montepulciano (1996).  We do recommend to taste Vin Santo DOC  at the Cantina Guiccarini-Strozzi and at the Cantina di Nottola. 

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