After all the bubbles on New Year’s Eve--that last bottle, at 1:00 in the morning, turned out to be a bad idea the next day--and the heavy foods of the holidays, I can’t think of a better way to start off 2012 than with a complex, beautifully maturing sweet wine from a part of the world known for its healthy food and, in lieu of familiarity with the Greek term for it, joie de vivre.
So: Vinsanto...from Santorini.
Now, most people, even passionate wine connoisseurs, tend to assume that Vinsanto is a uniquely and exclusively Italian product. It is not. However, even a statement like that is sure to raise hackles somewhere, on either side of the Mediterranean: The inevitable arguments of national wine origin, I’ve learned over the years, is one that no one ever really wins. And, truthfully, , both the Italians and the Greeks have a right to claim primacy here: Italian Vin Santo, or vino santo, or “holy wine”; and Greek Vinsanto, or “wine of Santorini,” both share legitimate historical and linguistic justifications for their respective wine-origin stories. In the end, however, it really doesn’t matter: Both Italy and Santorini produce excellent bottlings, and excluding one in deference to the other is a mistake, as it will result in cheating yourself out of one (or two!) of the great pleasures of the world of wine.
I recently tasted a bottle of SantoWines Vinsanto 2004, and, at the first sip, all arguments of national original vanished: This was seriously delicious stuff in its own right, as are the best wines from everywhere in the world. Produced from 75% Assyrtiko and 25% Aidani, the grapes were dried in the sun for 8 - 10 days, pressed, fermented, and then aged in oak for 36 months. The result, now nearly 8 years later, is a mahogany-toned wine whose nose expressively and accurately mimics fig paste, warm honey, toffee, and a touch pastry shell. It’s sweet and balanced on the palate, with more fig paste and pastry, as well as apricot preserves, nuts, and bright mandarin orange marmalade. This is a remarkable wine--drying at first, likely from its age, and then mouthwatering by mid-palate: Perfect for mature cheeses, lightly sweet desserts, or a mild cigar. Or simply on its own, to ring in the start of the new year.
[Note: Check out the current issue of John Mariani's Virtual Gourmet for my article on older Bordeaux.]