Ripe grape bunches (Malvasia, Trebbiano and Grechetto) are dried on racks hung from the rafters in a process known as “appassimento.” On small farms, the grapes were traditionally hung from the beams of the family's kitchen, where they also acquired a smoky aroma. After Christmas, moldy grapes are discarded, and the clean, dried ones are crushed. The must is then placed in small chestnut barrels called “caratelli,” and a starter or “madre” of residue from the previous year’s Vin Santo is added to provide a yeast boost for fermentation. Tradition calls for sealing these casks with cement, although this is not common today. The caratelli are then hoisted into the “vinsantai,” or attics, where they are exposed to the brutalities of hot summers and cold winters for a period of three to six years. No racking is done to the sealed casks. After this rough sojourn, the Vin Santo is bottled and sent to market.
Vin Santo is produced in a number of Italian regions, including Trentino, Veneto and Umbria, but its most famous expression comes from Tuscany. The style of the wine varies from dry to sweet, depending on the preference of the producer and on the ripeness level of the grapes at harvest. Most of what we see commercially is usually on the sweeter side. It is traditionally served with almond biscotti softened by a quick soaking in the wine. Offer this combination as a dessert course or simply as a snack for midday or evening conversation among friends. Vin Santo is the perfect prescription for making something heavenly out of those “days from hell.”
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