02 June 2010

2003 Santo Wines Vinsanto

UPDATE: There's a comment below with more detail from Jeremy Parzen about the disambiguation between Vin Santo and Vinsanto. He further elaborated on the topic in a separate blog post with far more detail. I'd encourage you to check it out for some solid research that clears up a lot of the myths and misconceptions surrounding the two products.

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Vin Santo/Vinsanto is more more of a style of wine than a protected trademark, so it's made in a few different places under various monikers. In general you take white grapes and let them dry on straw mats until they resemble raisins, then make a sweet dessert wine from the concentrated, sugary juice. (Contrast to Sauternes, Tokaji, and Trockenbeerenauslese, where noble rot dries and shrivels the grapes while still on the vine.) The style most likely originated around Tuscany, where there are a wide range of protected DOCs with specific regional names.

Once again courtesy of Constance, this is the 2003 Santo Wines Vinsanto from the Greek island of Santorini. $40/500mL, 11% abv. It's a blend of
75% Ασύρτικο/Assyrtiko and 25% Αηδάνι/Aidani. It has a rich copper hue to it, and due to seven years of aging, there are some thick chunks of sediment down at the bottom. (The back of the bottle contains an explanation for the sediment, and you'll want to decant carefully when serving.) We served it chilled, but I think it holds up well near room temperature. Just don't let it get too warm.

Beautiful aroma of golden raisins and brandy, with deep flavors of stewed fruit. It has firm acidity which balances nicely against the sweetness. I shared this with a group of friends who had differing levels of wine experience, and it was well-received. Despite the fact that it reminded a lot of people of brandy, it's only 11% alcohol and thus is a lighter option for an after-dinner drink. Vin Santo definitely goes great with a selection of cheeses. We used Stilton and Brie, the latter having been roasted and topped with macadamia nuts and honey by my brother.

I didn't start keeping notes on wines until 2004, and the blog didn't start until 2005. But I do have a few odds and ends in old journals, and I can state authoritatively that the first time I had Vin Santo was on December 23, 1996 at a little trattoria in Siena with a college girlfriend. I had no idea what it was, and just picked something at random off the dessert list. I knew it meant "saint wine", or "holy wine", but didn't know if that referred to a soaked cake or a wine-based custard or what. (You never know with dessert names. Shoofly pie and snickerdoodle lend zero information about their contents, to grab two random American examples.) What we got was a bottle of Vin Santo, little thimble-sized glasses, and tiny biscotti called cantuccini. Pour some of the wine, dip the cantuccini, enjoy. Much better than dipping cookies in milk or coffee, I assure you.

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Quick Greek lesson from the label: the tagline says "Οίνος Φυσικώς Γλυκός - Λιαστός"

οίνος = oinos = wine (the study of wine is called "oenology" because of this)

φυσικώς = physikos = natural (physics is the "natural science")

γλυκός = glukos = sweet (which is where we get the simple sugar "glucose")

λιαστός = liastos = sun dried (this comes from helios, meaning sun, like how plants and scantily-clad beach babes are heliotropic because they turn towards the sun)

So the translation right below is almost word for word. "Naturally sweet wine from sun dried grapes." Never hurts to learn some Greek, even if there's the challenge of a different alphabet. And hey, this wine would go great with a nice warm slice of π.

Note: This was received as a sample from Santo Wines.


fredric koeppel said...

well-done. i got this wine too, and your comments make me look forward to trying it. it is, of course, Greek to me.

Benito said...


As always, I look forward to your take on it. I held on to this sample for a few weeks until I had a chance to share it with a group--I don't get very many dessert wines and often they are crowd pleasers.


Constance C said...

I'm so happy you enjoyed it Benito! I also look forward to hearing your thoughts Fredric :)

Benito said...


I'm always excited to try a Greek wine. I wear a toga, put olive leaves on my head, and stand around in the backyard inventing concepts like geometry and democracy. ;)


Joe said...

man, it sounds awesome. I haven't had mine yet.

My initial plan was to make some baklava to go with this, but that may just be too-daunting a baking task for me to muster.

In any case, I've only had Vin Santo once, and it was fantastic. I'm looking forward to the Greek version and comparing notes with you and Fredric. Cheers!

Benito said...


Anxious to see what you do with it. I don't really have a sweet tooth, so the savory cheese was a better match for me. Though I do think that this dessert wine still has a lower brix than most sweet tea down here in the South.


fredric koeppel said...

vin santos are really best with the simplest accompaniment, biscotti or a small cookie to dip in.

and tsk tsk to you benito, student of history. the greeks wore the chiton, not the toga.

Benito said...


Properly chastened, sir. I had started a joke about marketing Greek wines to fraternities and sororities, but realized it was a bad idea. TOGA TOGA TOGA was stuck in my head. :)


fredric koeppel said...

or is that TORA TORA TORA?

Ed Thralls said...


Thanks for the review. I haven't tried a Vin Santo, only studied it on paper. The dried-on-mats process sounds similar to Amarone.

I don't generally like anything too sweet either, so that may be why I haven't seeked it out before.

Too bad I don't have one to try :`(

Benito said...


Good call on the Amarone, though this is taken to a sweeter final product. It's kind of weird; whenever I tell friends about processes like drying grapes on straw mats, they just sort of blink and nod. To me it just seems fascinating.

I can't promise samples for you, but tell Constance I sent you and I'm sure she can work something out.


Do Bianchi said...

Benito, great post and great TN as always. I especially appreciate the Greek glossary at the end. Good stuff.

I feel obliged to make a number of clarifications regarding the Italian references here.

First off, the Vinsanto of Greece and the Vin Santo of Italy (not just Tuscany, btw) are entirely unrelated. The coincidence of the name is purely homonymical (homo = same in Greek, nym- = name).

Italian Vin Santo is made by an entirely unique process, very different from the Vinsanto or other dried-grape wines from the Mediterranean. What makes Vin Santo unique is its mother yeast process, its arrested and then restarted fermentation, oxidation, and then a unique "cooked" aging process (including the special casks used for this purpose).

Amarone is yet another distinct Italian winemaking process, unrelated and highly different than dried-grape wines (passiti, they're called in Italian) and Vin Santo.

Another point that I feel needs to be made is that inexpensive, commercially produced Vin Santo is commonly served with cantucci (Tuscan cookies) in cities like Florence and Siena. But great Vin Santo is traditionally served with cheese.

Because of its commercialization, Vin Santo is one of Italy's most misunderstood wines (the same holds for Amarone).

Thanks for listening! Having said all this, I will also point out that I have been thoroughly enjoying your blog!

Blog on...

spikenbilli@hotmail.com said...

Hi there!
I was recently on Santorini Island and descovered this wine and, loved it! I am in Canada, Revelstoke but cannot find anywhere that sells this particular wine. Can you help me out?