Cookie Week at The Kitchn has made me think about what wine I would ideally like to sip while enjoying some delicious homemade holiday cookies. Conjuring up memories of sweet mince pies, gingerbread and plum pudding, the first wine that came to mind was Vin Santo — Tuscany’s famous dessert wine.
Vin Santo is a sweet wine made from dried grapes. It is typically made from the local white grapes Malvasia and Trebbiano, although sometimes some proportion of Sangiovese grapes are included. The grapes are harvested when very ripe, and then laid out to dry for several months. This drying process concentrates the sugars, acids and flavor compounds in the grapes. The grapes are then crushed and pressed. The ultra sweet, thick juice is then fermented in barrel.
Fermentation is slow and typically stops before all the sugars have been converted into alcohol, resulting in a very sweet wine. After fermentation, the barrels are sealed and the wine is aged for anything between 5 and 10 years. What is interesting about the ageing process is that there is no topping up (note: when a wine is maturing in barrel there is always some evaporation. Barrels are usually topped up with the same wine from other barrels to minimize the oxidative effect on the wine). With Vin Santo an oxidative influence is encouraged and indeed forms part of the style, adding complexity and flavor.
The final wine is deliciously sweet and complex. It is packed with layers of wonderful flavors of dried figs, raisins, sweet baking spices, nuts and toffee. Truly delicious slowly sipped with a freshly baked cookie on a cold winter’s evening.
Vin Santo wines are usually sold in half bottles (35cl) and cost about $45 – not cheap, but not terribly expensive considering the complex production method and the very long maturation time. Plus, a small glass goes a very long way.
Three producers that I am fond of, and are widely available include Felsina, Badia a Coltibuono and Ruffino Serelle.
Enjoy the holidays and a festive sip.
Mary Gorman-McAdams, DWS, is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant. She hold the Diploma in Wine & Spirits from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), and is a candidate in the Master of Wine Program.
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(Images: Mary Gorman)