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Vin Santo di Toscana
Vin Santo is a style of dessert wine closely associated with Tuscany and made in a large number of the region's appellations. Tasting Claude Basla’s sensational but markedly sweet Vin Santo at Altesino, it became clear that there is a wider spectrum of Vin Santo styles than we had previously assumed. Smiling, as if he had seen this reaction to his amazing nectar before, he declared the "best Vin Santo's are made with completely healthy grapes." Indeed Vin Santo may look like an old Sauternes made with nobly rotted grapes, but they are actually very different beasts.

Vin Santo can be used for more than the traditional dip for biscotti. Drier versions also make a fine aperitif. This stylistic variance may make them confusing to non-Italian consumers because they are not simply interchangeable with other dessert wines and in flavor profile often fall somewhere between Sherry and Tokaji.

The origins of Vin Santo lie with the Catholic Church, where it was used as, presumably sweet, sacramental wine. Contemporary Vin Santo now has a DOC designation and it is considered a vinous Tuscan delicacy. The production method of this traditional wine style has not changed much over the decades. The grape varieties used for making Vin Santo are typically Trebbiano or Malvasia, though other grape varieties may occasionally be included in the blend. Much like French Vin Doux Naturel, the grape sugars are concentrated by drying the bunches on straw mats or hanging them in a dry room from the time of harvest until early in the next year.

Over the course of drying, the grapes shrivel to become raisined, but they should not develop rot. At this point they are pressed to obtain a thick, sticky must that is fermented in small, old barrels over many months. Fermentation proceeds at a snail's pace, often until the wine is almost dry. The complex character of a Vin Santo is formed by years of aging in the same small barrels until it is bottled.

Vin Santo is a wine that comes in many different styles. Some of the most profound and complex examples have some of the attributes of a dry amontillado Sherry, or in other words a complex, oxidized character with dry, spicy flavors that on the end of the palate. Other equally profound examples have a brilliant streak of acidity, underlying fruitiness, and a degree of sweetness. Between these two stylistic extremes lies the entire spectrum of Vin Santo possibilities. (Wine/Appellations)