Vin Santo or Vino Santo (holy wine) is a style of Italian dessert wine. Traditional in Tuscany, these wines are often made from white grape varieties such as Trebbiano and Malvasia, though Sangiovese may be used to produce a rosé style known as Occhio di Pernice or eye of the partridge.
Traditionally, only the best grapes are selected to produce Vin Santo. They are then placed on mats or hung on hooks and allowed to dry (traditionally this has been done during the waning moon, because it was believed that the grapes would not turn sour). Then the grapes are pressed and the must (according to tradition, with or without pomace) is placed in barrels of different sizes (usually between 15 and 50 litres) made of different woods, from which the last production of Vin Santo has just been removed. During this operation the producer makes sure that the deposits of the old production is not removed from the barrel, because it is considered for the good taste of Vin Santo. This bottom of the barrel is also named Madre del Vin Santo. The barrels are sealed and usually kept in the attic of a Villa in the so-called Vinsantaia. Big temperature differences between summer and winter are useful for the fermentation and/or the taste. Normally, the Vin Santo is aged for three years, but some manufacturers had it (or do so still today) mature for more than ten years.
The traditional production system depended on different technical factors: e.g. the difficult fermentation of musts with high sugar concentration. The solution to these adverse conditions, namely the lack of hygiene of the container and the use of dregs of the previous production gave the wine a flavour, that in some cases was appreciated by wine drinkers, but in others was considered to be disturbing. In the so-called madre there are high quantities of substances that should not occur in wine.
Therefore, in modern production, only new or relatively new timber vessels are used. The fermentation is initiated by the addition of selected yeasts, which are suitable for high sugar concentration wine bases. Nowadays the same hygiene standards of all other wines and food are applied for the production of Vin Santo. Many manufacturers will still add a small amount of madre to achieve the same range of tastes as before.
A classical pairing is "Cantucci and Vin Santo." These cookies are dipped in the wine, to make them soft and highlight the flavour both of the wine and the cookies. In Umbria, the pastry Fave dei Morti (which are typically served with almond biscuits during funeral feasts), the Ciaramicola (Easter cake) and the Ciambellone (or Torcolo) are enjoyed with Vin Santo.