week ago I was scouring my local Italian delicacy store searching for salumi, cheeses, espresso, and some quality pickled veggies. The prices are steep but I relish the chance to practice my Italian and experiment with items I’ve never used or tried. After paying and bidding the owner ‘rrivederci I caught an amber glow out of the corner of my eye. My toes were out the door but something about it made me double back to investigate…Alas! Something I’ve been searching for in vain for months, something that was once part of my daily routine but has been forgotten for years…Vin Santo.
Conceived in Antiquity, Vin Santo is a Tuscan dessert wine typically drinken after dinner or espresso as a digestivo. Tuscan grapes like sangiovese or trebbiano are spread across straw mats and allowed to dry in the sun until their flavor concentrates and the skins prune. The rest is similar to traditional wine making but the end result more closely resembles dry Sherry or Amaretto.
Harking back to the same old story, me and my Firenze roomates would end many a meal with a small glass of vin santo and some cantucci, Zak working on a digital painting, Lee doodling in a folded sketchbook, and Josh inspecting the day’s wear and tear on his 35mm as I plucked away on a borrowed acoustic. Friends and classmates would wonder in, grab a glass for themselves and join in the unspoken collaboration that became our apartment. Was it our unwavering inspiration and interest in all things creative or was it just the Vin Santo? We’ll never know, but I can inspire you to find out yourself:
Appearance: Like liquid amber, golden and deep with intense clarity (if it’s of any quality).
Aroma: There’s no mistaking this Vino has more alcohol than your average Chianti, but the aroma is far less abrasive than any hard liquor like rum or tequila. With a quick swirl your senses are overwhelmed by dried currants, sugar cane, and a musky waft that only ripened grape skins can provide.
Taste: Depending on the age, barreling, grape varieties, and region Vin Santo’s can vary from cloyingly sweet to puckeringly dry. A quality bottle will taste similar to golden raisins having been soaked in grappa or white rum, sweet but heady. It’s an acquired taste for some, my dad for example, but the richness is best cut with a biscotti or cantucci dipped along side each sip. It’s best served room temperature so you can enjoy all of the subtle flavors, cold it tastes like syrup.
Food Pairings: Visit any traditional Trattoria or Osteria in Tuscany and you’re bound to be served cantucci di Prato with your glass, but it’s birth during the Renaissance lead to it’s use in a collection of royal court recipes. It’s vinegar-esque pungency creates dishes akin to Sicily’s famed agrodolce (sweet and sour) but with a true Tuscan style. All in all it’s ideal after the meals complete and you sit lazily back with a cookie or two.
Price: I found a half-decent bottle (not DOCG) for $10 but I would try to find a DOCG certified bottle for anywhere between $15-30 dollars and drink sparingly – it’s meant to sip and dip.
Overall: If you’re interested in flavors from around the world Vin Santo is sure to excite your taste buds. It’s balance of flavor is reminiscent of all good Italian products: unforgettable yet surprisingly simple.
As the snow began to fall Sunday morning I couldn’t help but finish off the last drops of my small bottle, dipping in the remaining sesame cookies and counting the years it’s been since I last opened a bottle. Sometimes you don’t know you’ve missed something so much until it’s right in front of you, luckily this old friend is back in my life. All that creativity must have been the Vin Santo, I’m posting a day early for cripes sake!