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Oxford Companion to Wine

Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

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Vin Santo, ‘holy wine’, tuscany’s classic amber-coloured dessert wine, is produced throughout this central Italian region. It is made traditionally from the local white grapes trebbiano Toscano and malvasia (although the red sangiovese is also used to produce a wine called Occhio di Pernice, or eye of the partridge) which have been dried on straw mats under the rafters, in the hottest and best-ventilated part of the peasant home (see dried-grape wines). The grapes were normally crushed between the end of November and the end of March, depending on the desired residual sugar level in the wine (the longer the drying process, the greater the evaporation and the sweeter the must), and then aged in small barrels holding between 50 l and 300 l/79 gal. These barrels, often bought second hand from the south of Italy, were frequently made of chestnut, but the 1980s saw a decisive turn towards oak. The barrels themselves are sealed and never topped up, resulting inevitably in ullage and oxidation which gives the wine a rancio-like aroma and its characteristic amber colour. Some producers believe in using a madre, or starter culture, comprised of yeast cells from previous batches of Vin Santo in order to help the fermentation and to add complexity to the blend. Others, in true Tuscan fashion, view the madre as a throwback to the time when all Vin Santo was marred by faults and refuse to countenance its use.