VIN SANTO (Tuscany, Italy)

Contributer: Gina Gregory
A view of Tacinaia property in Pistoia, Tuscany.
A view of Tacinaia property in Pistoia, Tuscany.

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!

Winemaker Lorenzo Lunardi talks to us about Vin Santo.
Winemaker Lorenzo Lunardi talks to us about Vin Santo.

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!

A family dinner at the home of the Lunardi's.
A family dinner at the home of the Lunardi's.


Azienda Agricola Tacinaia 2001 Vin Sanot del Empolese (available by the glass at Portalis Wine Bar)
Azienda Agricola Tacinaia 2001 Vin Santo del Empolese (available by the glass or bottle at Portalis ).


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

Montsant & Priorat (Spain)

blog_montsantpriorate_cueto-vines_0119081Montsant and Priorat are some of the most interesting wine regions in Spain. The two regions are clustered together about 100 miles southwest of Barcelona, slightly inland from the Mediterranean coast. Priorat, also called Priorato, is probably the most ragged, atypical wine region anywhere in the world, with its very steep hills, stony villages, and special soil (thin, volcanic slate, with small pieces of schist), which gives the wines their special mineral character. Wines from the Priorat region are very famous, but the appellation is relatively small, with 60 wineries sharing 1500 hectares. 1991 was the first “commercial” vintage, where some wines were exported to countries outside of Spain.
Directly south of the Priorat appellation, not far from the town of Tarragona in Catalunya, lies Montsant, formerly the Alt-Priorat, and a subsection of the Tarragona appellation. Montsant became its own appellation in 2001. There are 40 wineries located in the Montsant appellation, some over 180 years old. They operate in the shadow of the famous Priorat appellation but produce stunning wines for a fraction of the price of the Priorat wines.
Here are some recommendations from these regions:
Celler de Capcanes 2001 Costers del Gravet Montsant $26.50
The winery is located in the village of Capcanes, was founded in 1933 and served for several years as the village cooperative. Tasting notes: A blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Garnacha, 20% Carinena. Big, full-bodied red, with ripe, almost roasted flavors of plum, prunes, cola and coffee. Elegant on the mid-palate. Great concentration and acidity. Long, clean, almost floral finish with fine tannins. Drink now through 2010
La Cova Dels Vins 2006 Ombra Montsant $19.50
This is the personal project of Capcanes winemaker Cisco Perello. The vineyards are located in the districts of Falset (Priorat) and Capcanes (Montsant) at 300 to 700 meters altitude. This red is produced from 3 different varietals (Garnacha, Carinena, Syrah) on 3 different soils. 96 year-old (!) Garnacha on chalk soils, 75 year old Carinena on slate soils, and 25 year old Syrah on clay soil. Aged for 14 months in French oak barrels. Tasting notes: Round and lush, with great fruit from the nose to the palate. Aromas and flavors of sweet plums, red fruit, with smoky components and a touch of pepper and herbs. Beautifully balanced and elegant. Doesn’t need much cellaring. Drink now till 2011
Celler De L’Encastell 2006 Priorat Marge REG $35/SALE $30.99
Family-owned, this winery was selling wine to other estates for a long time. The winery is located in the village of Porrera and started bottling its own wine in 1999. This red is a blend of 60% Garnacha, 14% Syrah, 13% Merlot, and 13% Cabernet Sauvignon aged for 8 months in French and American oak barrels. Produced from vines planted on pure slate. Tasting notes: A beauty that represents Priorat. A floral, herbal nose with notes of lavender and violets. Flavors of dark cherries, blueberries, plums and prunes. Medium- to full-bodied with a smooth, elegant texture and balance, with spicy, peppery notes. This red blend has terrific length and depth, and a long, smooth finish with fine tannins. You won’t find a better value from Priorat. Best from 2010 for a decade.

Clos Les Fites 2003 Priorat $40
The winery, located in the middle of the Priorat mountains, was founded in 1998, and has been a monastery for a long time. This red is a blend of 50% Grenache, 35% Carinena, and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. Tasting notes: Intense nose of dark fruit and blackberries, followed by flavors of chewy blackberries, plums, prunes with chocolate and vanilla notes. Complex, full-bodied, with spicy elements and a very long finish.
Drink now till 2013.

All these wines are a good match with grilled steaks, dark roasts and lamb.
Enjoy & cheers!

The Chianti Region of Tuscany

Tuscany (Toscana) is one of Italy’s most famous wine regions and splits into two big geographical regions: the Tyrrhenian Coast and the Central Hills in the provinces of Florence and Siena. Chianti is the name of the area that stretches south from Florence to Siena. The Chianti Classico DOCG (Denomianzione di Origine Contollata e Garantita) is the traditional heart of the Tuscan wine region around the villages Gaiole, Radda, and Castellina. The main variety is the Sangiovese grape, which is sometimes blended with Canaiolo, Colorino, and Mammolo as well as small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  Here are some examples of delicious, reasonably priced wines from that region:

Casa Alle Vacche 2005 Vernacchia di San Gimignano $20
The Vernacchia di San Gimignano DOCG was first mentioned in 1276, and this white varietal is one of the oldest in Italy. The grapes are grown on the slopes around this medieval town which is not far from Siena. This winery is located in the village of San Gigmignano and is named after the stables for the hard-working animals. Tasting notes: Fresh and vibrant, with floral pear as well as melon aromas and crisp lemon and lime flavors, with hints of nectarine. Wonderful, fresh finish, with violets and almond notes. Best paired with seafood and salads. Drink now.

Casa Alle Vacche 2006 Chianti Colli Senesi $18
This Chianti is made by the same winery as the Vernacchia. The vines are coming from vineyards around the famous town of Siena. Tasting notes: Wonderful aromas and flavors of black cherry and blackberry fruit, with some herbal and spicy notes. Excellent acidity and fine tannins on the finish. Best paired with pasta with red tomato based sauces. Drink now, up to 2years.

Fattoria di Poggiopiano 2004 Chianti Classico $29
Fattoria di Poggiopiano is located in the hilltops of Fiesole, south of Florence, which look over the Arno Valley. The vineyards and olive groves are spread over 17 hectares, 150 meters high on gravely, chalky terrain. The Galardi brothers, descendents of a long line of Florentine wine and olive traders, took over the estate in 1935, and since 1985 Mauro Galardi heads the estate, which is one of the top producers for olive oil and Chianti. Tasting notes: A dark, polished, modern style, with fabulous aromas of blackberry, mineral and licorice, leading over to plush mocha and espresso flavors, with some plum and cherry notes. Medium-bodied, with fine, velvety tannins and a long, long finish. Very smooth and wonderfully balanced. Food pairing: Osso bucco or pasta with wild boar ragout would be great. Drink now. This wine is at its peak.

Enjoy & cheers!