Last spring I had the rare privilege to travel to Italy and visit some of their most celebrated wine regions, including Piedmont, Tuscany and Veneto. The cool factor is that I got to tag along with my friend Ari Manzin, owner of Bianco-Rosso Imports of Seattle. Ari makes this trip annually with the objective of visiting as many producers from his portfolio as he can within a two week period. Naturally, I was like…sign me up!
One of the wineries we visited was the charming family of Azienda Agricola Tacinaia. Located in the hills west of Florence and near the beautiful town of Pistoia. Tacinaia is a family owned-operated winery whose only export is Vin Santo. Vin Santo is the famed dessert wine of Tuscany, often golden-amber in color, intoxicating aromas, and silky texture. This was such a treat for me, as I’ve always enjoyed Vin Santo, but had never been this close to the source.
If you have never tried Vin Santo before, you must put it on your list of wines to drink in 2009. The translation of Vin Santo is literally “saints’ wine” or “holy wine”, no explanation needed. The Tuscan version is the most famous, but other regions produce their version in Umbria, Trentino-Adige and Veneto. Tacinaia uses Trebbiano and Malvasia Bianca in their Vin Santos, and age them a minimum of 3 years. Lorenzo Lunardi, third generation winemaker for Tacinaia, took us through the maze of little “cabins” (as we affectionately called them) where the Vin Santo lay resting and aging. We noticed that the barrels seemed to be damp on the outside, and Lorenzo explained the moisture was important so the barrels wouldn’t dry out. The highlight was tasting newly pressed Vin Santo, from the honey-sweet to the nutty-dry style (which I preferred). After our tour of their property, we were invited over to Lorenzo’s parents, to enjoy a rustic Tuscan meal. At dinner we found out that not only does his family produce Vin Santo, but they make red & white table wine (only available to the locals), their own charcuterie (in the parent’s basement), olive oil, limoncello, and an irresistible walnut liqueur. The meal was graciously prepared by Lorenzo’s mother and included such delights as lardo, homemade pasta bolognese, rabbit, pheasant, and roasted veggies. I wish I could post all my photos from that meal, but I think you get the idea. It was an amazing evening and one I will not soon forget!
MAKING VIN SANTO
During the months of October-November the grapes are hand-picked and hung from the rafters of an airy dry attic (or room) for 3-6 months. Once dried, the grapes are pressed and the juice, combined with a madre (a small remnant of residue from a previous batch) is poured into small oak or chestnut caratelli (small cigar shaped barrels) for fermentation. The caratelli are not filled all the way, but a little room is left in the barrel to allow oxidation, which is a part of the aging process. During the aging process, the wine produces a nutty-caramel characteristic and deep golden color. After the initial fermentation the caratelli are sealed and placed under the roof of the winery, sometimes as long as ten years. Vin santo is to be enjoyed after dinner along with cantuccis (almond biscuits) or in the case of dry Vin Santos, as an aperitif.
Recommended Vin Santos
Azienda Agricola Tacinaia Vin Santo Del Empolese – 500ml $27
Azienda Agricola Tacinaia Vin Santo Del Chianti – 500ml $27
Villa Artimino Del Carmignano – 500ml $32
Poggio Salvi De Chianti – 375ml $35
Mannuci Droandi Del Chianti – 375ml $47
*Please contact us if you are interested in purchasing any of these wines