"Wine has been a part of civilized life for some seven thousand years. It is the only beverage that feeds the body, soul and spirit of man and at the same time stimulates the mind..." - Robert Mondavi

Think Chianti and you’re probably thinking Sangiovese, perhaps even blended with up to 10% Canaiolo and another percentage of international varieties. But Chianti made from Malvasia Bianca and Trebbiano Toscano?  In Chianti?  Well yes, because Chianti (in Tuscany) is also a place and within it, wines can be made that have no Sangiovese whatever. One such is Vin Santo, a dessert wine that, when made sweet, goes better with anise-flavored biscotti than a margarita pizza.

Its origin goes back to at least the middle ages and, while some changes have been made in the type of wood used (chestnut has given way to some use of oak which extracts fewer harsh tannins and is less porous), the technique used is essentially the same. Grapes are hung in bunches in order to wither (inside a ventilated environment – other producers use reed mats).  The longer the grapes are allowed to dry and desiccate, the higher the residual sugar will be in the wine.  Hence, Vin Santo may be made resulting in varying levels of sweetness – from bone dry, like a Fino Sherry to the moderately sweet style of this 2005 vintage Castellare Vin Santo. It is common for grapes to lose about 60% of their volume during this process. The method of drying grapes (called appassimento) is the same as that used in making the delicious Amarone della Valpolicella from the Veneto region. Other areas, such as the Greek island of Santorini, have also produced wine from desiccated grapes.

Fermentation for Vin Santo is carried out slowly in small barrels, called Caratelli (holding 50 liters, about 13.2 gallons). For comparison, a standard French Barrique will hold 224 liters (59.17 gallons).  These smaller barrels are necessary because they are often stored in warm attics where heat promotes oxidation and barrel weight becomes a safety issue for people working below.  The wine is then aged in these same barrels a minimum of three years, depending upon DOC regional requirements.  San Niccolo’s Vin Santo is aged five years then an additional 8 months in bottle.

So what can you expect out of the bottle?  If I knew nothing about these wines, but was familiar with Madera, I would appreciate a similarity while respecting differences. In the glass, the wine is amber, with thick and slow moving tears. The nose presents grape spirit high notes and the Madera like similarity. Dried apricot is evident. I also enjoyed – and this is strange – an aroma reminding me of Bananas Foster. Then I realized it was caramel as from the flambĂ©. 

Barrels of Vin Santo are not topped off, allowing a level of controlled oxidation.  The oxidation adds burnished notes throughout and contributes to the wine’s complexity.  On the palate, the wine offered apricot, dried fruit, caramel, chestnut, raisin, toffee, dried fig and a Grand Marnier quality of orange peel. Tongue coating, and moderately sweet, the wine is balanced against spirit and acidity so as not to be unctuous.  It has a zesty acidity that finishes cleanly, thanks to the level of acidity naturally occurring in both Malvasia and Trebbiano that counter-punches the sweetness developed in the process of drying the grapes.  Well-made vintage Vin Santo can last for decades under good storage conditions.  

If you’re still upset that there’s no Sangiovese in this wine, take heart.  Sangiovese may be used to produce a rose style known as Occhio di Pernice, but that’s another story.

…………….. Jim
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D.O.C.                          Vin Santo Del Chianti Classico
                                    (Tuscany – Chianti – Vin Santo del Chianti Classico)
Grapes:                        Malvasia Bianca (60%), Trebbiano Toscano (40%) Both white
Age of Vines:               10/15 Years
Soil:                             Calcareous Clay-Loam
Elevation:                    1450 ft., Southwest Exposure
Vintage:                       2005
Vinification:                 Oak & Chestnut, Small Barrel* All Neutral (20-30 years age)
·         Robert Parker states aging is in 110 liter Fr & Am Oak Barrels. Producer states Oak &
Chestnut Caratelli.
Aging:                          5 Years in Wood, 8 Additional Months in Bottle
Clarification:                Bentonite-Gelatin
Alc:                               16%
Avg. Production           3000
Bottle Size:                  375ml
ARP:                             $55 U.S.
Scores:                         Parker 94, Galloni 94, Wine Spectator 91, Wine Enthusiast 89

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