The tradition of Vin Santo is very old and there are several theories as to how the name came to be named “Holy Wine.”
The process of making Vin Santo is something of a miracle. Grapes are laid out on mats, or hung in the rafters of the winery, to dry for many months in a process referred to as “passito.” As the rooms increase in temperature in the spring the Vin Santo fermentation begins. It is a long and slow fermentation that can rise and fall with the seasons and take up to 4 years to complete.
The Vin Santo barrels called "Caratelli" (translates to “small casks”) are special in that over time they will develop their own yeast “mother” known as botrytis, developed inside the grape creating sugar which then fermented into alcohol.
Making Vin Santo is truly a labor of love but also of patience and faith—faith in how nature will shape the Vin Santo during its time in the caratelli.
In Tuscany, and part of Umbria, Vin Santo is typically made with a blend of white grapes, usually Malvasia and Trebbiano (which adds honeyed flavor), and red grapes, the ubiquitous Sangiovese. Occhio di Pernice,” meaning “Eye of the Partridge”, is the rather poetic name bestowed upon the red version of Vin Santo, alluding to the wine’s brilliant color.
Vin Santo is traditionally served with cantuccini (biscotti), but none of the winemakers mention cookies. Instead they prefer to sip it by itself or with a strong, mature cheese. I have absolutely loved serving our home made blood orange olive oil cantuccini with vin santo at our wine tastings!