What is vin santo?

A. Tuscan sweet wine made from partially dried grapes and favored by priests for the Mass

B. Sparkling wine traditionally made by monks in Spanish monasteries

C. Velvety Austrian red wine made from grapes named after St. Laurent

D. Rustic white table wine consumed by celebrants of the patron saint of winemakers on St. Martin’s Day in France


Of the hundreds of different sweet wines produced in Italy, the best known may be vin santo, holy wine, so named because priests have drunk it during the Mass for centuries. Vin santo is the customary finale to even the humblest Tuscan meal, served after espresso, almost always with a plate of small biscotti called cantucci, stubby, twice-baked cookies meant for dunking. Most vin santo does not taste as sweet as, say Sauternes. The wine has a delicate, creamy, honey-roasted flavor, and the color can be unreal, from radiant amber to neon orange. True vin santo is fairly expensive because the ancient process of making it remains artisanal and labor intensive. Indeed, the grapes (generally malvasia bianca lunga or trebbiano) must be partially dried for three to six months before they are crushed and then left to ferment slowly for three to five years in small, sealed barrels in a warm attic called a vinsantaia.

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