The origin of this dessert wine lies in ancient Greece. The name means "holy wine", it is derived from the "Settimana Santa" (Holy Week), because it is usually pressed between the end of November and Easter. It is also often used as a wine for the mass. In Italy it is also called Vino Santo outside of Tuscany. The OPAP sweet wine produced on the Aegean island Santorini is called Vinsanto (without blank). In Italy, it is often produced only for personal consumption and is often used at family celebrations such as baptisms and weddings. Mostly they are sweet varieties (dolce), but semi-sweet (amabile) and dry (secco) varieties with different alcohol content and residual sugar are also produced. White and red varieties of Malvasia and Trebbiano, as well as Grechetto and Sangiovese, are preferred for the production.
These are hung on shelves under a roof for drying under the influence of air using the Passito method or laid flat on reed or straw mats. At the end of December at the earliest, the raisined grapes are pressed and the mouldy ones are separated before. From the viscous must a wine with up to 16% vol. alcohol and high residual sugar content ferments. After fermentation, the wine is put into small chestnut or oak barrels (Caratello - 70 to 200 litres). Often "Madre del Vin Santo" (mother wine) is added. These are yeast residues from the previous wine to initiate a second fermentation.
Then the barrels are sealed, but modern producers keep an access open for fermentation control. Now the barrels are stored on the so called "Vinsantaia". This is usually the airy attic of the winery, which deliberately exposes the barrels to the alternation of cold winter and hot summer. In summer, the wine begins to ferment a second time, but this happens very slowly. The barrels are only opened again after two years at the earliest, and in extreme cases six years. The result is a rich, alcoholic, sweet wine with typical aromas of nuts, apricots, honey and spices. Biscotti di Prato (Cantuccini), a traditional almond pastry, are often served with the Vin Santo:
The Vin Santo is produced in all colours such as rosé (called Occhio di Pernice = eye of the partridge in Tuscany), red and white, aged from dry to sweet, and can be produced as a pure variety or a cuvée. It is produced throughout central Italy and in Trentino (here under Vino Santo), but the most famous comes in many varieties from Tuscany. There it is produced in almost all DOC zones. These are Bianco dell'Empolese, Bianco Pisano di San Torpè, Colli dell'Etruria Centrale, Monteregio di Massa Marittima, Monteregio, Montescudaio, Pomino, Val d'Arbia and Valdinievole. In the DOC areas of Chianti, Chianti Classico and Montepulciano there are the DOC zones Vin Santo del Chianti, Vin Santo del Chianti Classico and Vin Santo di Montepulciano. However, a large part of the numerous Vin Santo in Italy is produced without DOC/DOCG declaration.
Complete lists of the numerous vinification measures or cellar techniques, as well as the various types of wine, sparkling wine and distillate regulated by wine law are included under the keyword vinification. Comprehensive information on wine law can be found under the keyword wine law.