The earliest mention of Vin Santo in print? Maffei, Verona, 1732

Above: I’m borrowing images of grapes recently picked and laid out to dry for Vin Santo from my friends at Il Poggione.

For those of you who have been following my research into the origins of the enonyms Vinsanto (Santorini, Greece) and Vin Santo (Italy), I hope that you will find my most recent discoveries as interesting and exciting as I do.

The first comes from Francesco Scipione Maffei’s history of Verona, Verona Illustrata (parte prima) (Verona, Jacopo Vallarsi e Pierantonio Berno, 1732).

N.B.: for brevity’s sake, I’ve refrained from glossing the historical figures mentioned here. Where possible, I’ve included relevant links. On another occasion, I’ll translate more from Maffei’s wonderful book.

In discussing the historically significant agricultural products of greater Verona, Maffei devotes ample space to the wines, citing mentions in Cassiodorus and in various Roman decrees. Two wines, he writes, were highly coveted by the Romans: one white and one red. He translates (into Italian) Cassidorus’s description of a vinification process for a wine that resembles today’s Recioto di Soave (no surprise here). But a discrepancy in the nomenclature leads him to make the following observation:

    But perhaps [the wine described below] had another name in antiquity, because Pliny omits it. And it seems that [Roman jurist] Ulpian meant something else when he referred to Acinaticum or Acineum in a law.

    Select grapes are stored until December. They are then gently pressed in the great cold [of winter]. The must is stored for a long while without starting fermentation and before laying a hand on it or drinking it.

    [Ancient documents] show that this wine, although red and not white, was the very same wine that we praise today by calling it Santo [holy].

    It is also produced in greater Brescia, from here to the Chiesi river.

    [translation mine]

I believe that this may be the earliest known reference to “Vin Santo” in print (1732). Whether it is or not, it demonstrates that the citizens of the Venetian Republic produced a wine known popularly as “[Vin] Santo.” The fact that it’s mentioned in 1732 reveals that it was popular long before then.

Above: The grapes are laid out to dry on mats called cannicci in Italian.

The second fascinating discovery comes in the form of La teoria e la pratica della Viticultura e della enologia [Theory and Practice of Viticulture and Enology] by Egidio Pollacci (Milano, Fatelli Dumolard, 1883). I’ll let the text speak for itself:

    Vin-santo. — The grapes used to make this wine vary from place to place because the same grape varieties, when cultivated in different regions, naturally deliver fruit of varying character. As a result, grapes good for Vin-santo in one place are difficult to use in other places. In Tuscany, for example, the grapes best suited for Vin-santo are Tribbiano [sic], Canaiolo bianco, and San Colombano. (1)

    (1) Vin-santo di Caluso, which is famous especially in Piedmont, is prepared using grape varieties known locally as Erbaluce and Bonarda. But in other parts of Piedmont, other grapes are used. …

    [translation mine]

In other texts I’ve uncovered, there is clear evidence that the production of Vin Santo was wildly popular in Tuscany by the end of the 19th century. The fact that Pollacci uses Tuscany as an example is indicative of this phenomenon. But what’s important here is the fact that he describes how different grapes are used in different regions, thus revealing that Vin Santo was popular in other parts of Italy as well. The production of Vin Santo in Piedmont was evidently significant enough in the late 19th century that Pollacci (who was from Pistoia) felt compelled to mention it here.


Above: Specially sized oak casks, called caratelli, are used for the long-term aging of Vin Santo.

I wish I had more time to devote to the many interesting texts I’ve “unearthed” recently and Maffei alone would merit his own monographic blog! Alas, it’s time to pay some bills around here… More later… and THANKS SO MUCH FOR READING!