Straw Wine

Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

  • About

Excluding sweet fortified wines, three main methods are used to produce sweet wines. See fortified wine. Straw wine is made by drying the grapes on straw mats for a couple of weeks outdoors, or over several months indoors, until desiccation has concentrated the sugar content of their juice to the point where the yeast cannot convert it all into alcohol. Hesiod described this technique around 700 b.c.e., and it is still widely used in the Mediterranean Basin, most importantly in various regions of Italy for Vin Santo, but also for Recioto di Soave and the red Recioto della Valpolicella in Veneto, and for Vinsanto on the Greek island of Santorini. From farther north come the rare Austrian Schilfwein and Vin de Paille of the French Jura and Hermitage on the Rhône. Locally prevalent grape varieties are usually used for their production. Malvasia delle Lipari from the Aeolian Islands off Sicily is a rare example made from an ancient grape variety (Malvasia) and is the closest among contemporary wines to what Hesiod described. Straw wines tend to have a high alcohol content of 13 to 16 percent and a raisin-like flavor, and are often amber in color from deliberate oxidation.