2003 Castellare S. Niccolo Vin Santo del Chianti Classico

Vin Santo or "holy wine" is named as such because priests have been drinking it during Mass for centuries. It's also a wine that has held a place in the Tuscan tradition as an after dinner dessert wine for generations. Most vin santo tends to be quite sweet, but can very in it's sugar levels depending on the producer and is often less sweet than Sauternes.

Usually these rare gems are quite expensive to purchase because of the limited supply and the labor intensive way in which they are produced. Malvasia and Trebbiano grapes must be dried for three to six months before they can be made into vin santo. This is usually accomplished by hanging the grapes from rafters in a well ventilated attic or room. During this drying out period the grapes lose most their water and become ultra-concentrated in both flavor and sugars. The yield of actual juice is therefore very limited.

The 46 acre estate of Castellare is located in Tuscany’s Castellina in Chianti, and is one of the best examples of tradition in Chianti. Castellare's vineyards are at 1,200 feet in elevation and only a few Chianti Classico vineyards are located much higher. At Castellare, the yields per acre are extremely low, far lower than the maximum level allowed by Chianti Classico DOCG rules, which enhances the concentration of aromas and flavors in their wines.

The 2003 Castellare S. Niccolo Vin Santo is made from a blend of 60% Malvasia Toscana and 40% Trebbiano Toscano harvested from various estate vineyards in Castellina in Chianti. After harvest, the grapes were crushed and fermented in small French oak barrels where they were aged for four to five years.

The first thing to note with this wine is it's brilliant golden orange color. It almost looks like some kind of apricot tea or a flat IPA beer!!

On the nose I get the most amazing aromas of fresh figs, orange marmalade, mineral, sage, nuts, and just the slightest hint of fresh mint leaf. It's an intoxicating bouquet and one that you could analyze for quite some time. It has this oxidized-sherry type thing too that is really quite intriguing. I've smelt PX an white Port that are similar to this, but the complexity of this wine is stunning.

On the palate the wine is very intense and delivers powerful flavors of honey, hazelnut, orange marmalade, spice, fig, and a nutty-date character that lingers on the finish. The wine is quite sweet, but it has some real spiciness and 16% alcohol which actually helps to make the wine appear to be quite balanced. I can see it being an amazing pairing with certain blue cheeses, as well as the traditional biscotti or cantucci. 92 points

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