The Italian dessert wine, Vin Santo, is known as “holy wine” or what I like to call it – angels tears… It’s that amazing. The first time I sipped a Vin Santo was in Italy what feels like a million years ago. It blew my brain then and has remained one of my favorite Italian dessert wines since.
Vin Santo is sweet Italian dessert wine that has a nutty caramel flavoring with a deep golden color. It’s traditionally made from white wine grapes, particularly Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes and is unique to the Tuscany region in Italy. It can be made as a single variate of blended with both grapes. You may also Vin Santo made from the Sangiovese grape, which is a red wine grape. This version of Vin Santo will have a pink-ish hue.
What’s more unique is how Vin Santo is made.
How Vin Santo is Made
Vin Santo is a late harvest wine – the grapes are left on the vines much later – resulting in a higher sugar concentrations. When they are picked, they are laid out on rack – or hung – to dry to create even higher sugar concentrations. (Remember, this is an Italian dessert wine so it’s supposed to be sweet.)
Once pressed, the thick, sugary juice is placed in a small, old barrel – typically about 50 liters – where it will slowly ferment and then age for at least two years. Many times 10+ years depending on the DOC rules. To help initiate fermentation a thick deposit of residue – wine-soaked lees – is left in the bottom of the barrel from the previous fermentation. (If you’re a baker, you might think of it like a sourdough starter.) This process is called the madre (“mother”) and adds layers of complexity and flavors to the newly added juice over the course of the years it sits in the barrels.
When the barrels are filled, they are only filled about 4/5’s of the total volume, which means air is being exposed to the soon-to-be wine. If you think that’s weird, just wait… The barrels are traditionally stored in a non-temperature controlled storage room where it will experience seasonal temperature fluctuations.
These two techniques would normally destroy a wine but for Vin Santo it is the key to its holiness – the outcome is a bottled miracle.
The techniques used to make Vin Santo may be a result of a small miracle but it’s believed to have earned its title as “Holy Wine” since the grapes were traditionally pressed and fermented during Holy Week (between Palm Sunday and Easter).
Vin Santo Recommendations
I have yet to have a bad Vin Santo, call me lucky or that they’re literally all bottled up miracles… Here are a few I do love and recommend for your next dessert wine pairing. (Castellare was the first Vin Santo I ever sipped in Italy!) Learn about more of your favorites wines in our Wine 101 section.
Elaine N. Schoch
Elaine Schoch (pronounced the German way – Shock) is the editor and founder of Carpe Travel as well as an award-winning travel writer, wine judge, certified by the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Level 2 and certified American Wine Expert. She is married to The Husband and has two kids, Princess One and Two – who’s interest and knowledge in wine is quite extensive. Not to mention the stamps in their passports.
I am new to the world of wine and trying to learn more. Your article makes this sound so good. I will definitely have to try this one.
Great! Let me know which ones you end up sipping. Cheers.
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