Thursday, December 14, 2017

Vin Santo with 'A Room With a View'

I'll be spending Christmas with my mother and sister, neither of whom much care for dessert wines, which is a shame because I love them with a passion. They're rare and precious things to be sipped and savoured, but the very opulence and complexity that makes them such a treat also means a little goes a long way. A whole bottle, even when it's only a half bottle, to yourself can feel like a lot (especially to someone who desperately wants to talk about this miracle of winemaking skill in a glass and dissect it's many fascinating elements - people who greet some legendary liquid, a liquid that glints like amber in the glass, with ‘I don't really like sweet wines’, or ‘It’s okay’ are hopeless for this purpose).

I keep trying to persuade them to treat the wine like a dessert - and there are liqueur muscats and Pedro Ximenez sherries that make an excellent alternative to mince pies or Christmas pudding (the same rich dried fruits and brown sugar flavours) but it hasn't worked so far. What I haven't tried them with is Vin Santo and cantuccini where the wine could be viewed as a kind of sauce. My mother sneaks alcohol of some sort into just about everything she cooks, so this might work...

A good Vin Santo (actually, pretty much any Vin Santo I've seen) can look off puttingly pricey, but it's a treat, and the process of making it (from partially dried grapes, then aged for years in barrels where the wine slowly evaporates) is expensive. It's something I end up explaining a lot to people who balk at paying about the same as they would for a house wine in a restaurant, for something really exquisite in a shop. As someone who'd far rather drink less, but better, it's a hard attitude to understand, as someone who's been in the wine trade for 19 years I can promise you that if you spend a little more you will get infinitely better value*.

Dipping cantuccini into wine feels like holiday behaviour to me, and very much part of the English fantasy of Tuscany, and as my first experience of that fantasy was through 'A Room With a View' that's what it makes me think of (first the film, and swiftly after the book). Leicestershire on a frozen Winters day feels like a long way from Florence, but the warmth of a fire, and the sweet depth of the wine brings it a lot closer as long as I don't look out the window at red brick buildings - immersion in E. M. Forster on the other hand works a treat.

* Anything over £10, there's still some really good stuff to be had from between £5 and £10, but it's getting harder to find. Spend between £10 and £30 you can expect to find something really exciting . Above that price point you're getting into more specialised territory and the rules change a bit.


  1. Now you have put me on a quest to research and find, locally, some Vin Santo. Thank you!

  2. I hope you find some and thoroughly enjoy it (with or without biscotti) :)

  3. Ah, love a Vin Santo with 'the biscuit' (can never remember the names beyond 'biscotti' at the vital moment, so thank you for 'cantuccini' - delightful!)

  4. A very agreeable custom! I really like sweet wine at the end of a meal in place of a dessert.