Greek Vinsanto: Luscious sweet wines of paradise

You say Vin Santo, I say Vinsanto.
What’s the difference?
Vin Santo, from Tuscany is made from Italian white grapes trebbiano and malavasia bianca.

Vinsanto from Greece went especially well with hard cheeses and Greek pastry delights.
Vinsanto from Greece went especially well with hard cheeses and Greek pastry delights.
Vinsanto, from the Greece, specifically the island of Santorini, is made with native white grapes Assyrtico and Aidan.
Both are luscious dessert wines, served slightly chilled, that can be made dry or extremely sweet. The best are balanced in alcohol and acidity, ageworthy, and wonderfully complex in candied fruit, spice, and nut flavors.
When complemented with hard cheeses or decadent desserts, Vinsanto can add a special uplifting mood to any pre- or post-dinner tableau.
While the grapes are different, it’s the fermentation process that separates the Greek and Italian versions.
In Tuscany, grapes are dried on straw mats in airy, shady farmhouses. The raisinated fruit is fermented in oak barrels for several years, developing fragrance and flavors while turning amber in color.
In Santorini, grapes are dried on mats in the sun under gentle Mediterranean Sea breezes that infuse sea salt onto the vine and fruit. The grapes are pressed and the juice ferments on the skins — enhancing color and flavor — in small oak barrels for two years or more. The skin contact adds a deeper, reddish hue to the amber color.
Recently, four intrepid neighbors, the Wine Goddess and myself turned a cold, wintry night into a Grand Vinsanto Tasting. The table featured hard and soft cheeses, grapes, and sugary desserts from the Olympos Bakery in Lowell.
The following reviews represent the collective thoughts of the tasters, which included three men and three women.
The 2007 Vinsanto, aged eight years in oak barrels, proved the top choice of the tasters' group.
The 2007 Vinsanto, aged eight years in oak barrels, proved the top choice of the tasters’ group.
• Artemis Karamolegos Vinsanto 2006, $35 — Wine fact: The lower the alcohol level, the higher the residual sugar level. This bottling was 9.5 percent, putting it in the medium “sweet” range … It had a pretty garnet color and aromas of fig, candied fruit and citrus … Flavors ran the gamut of raisins, figs, nuts … Scored high marks for viscous texture, balanced acidity, and the “satisfyingly long” orange-honey finish … Aged now for a decade, its smoothness and flavors are emerging in full … SWEET BOMB: Take a good bite of baklava, swallow slowly, and finish with a sip of AK Vinsanto for a divine taste of Greek paradise.
• Sigalas Vinsanto Santorini PDO 2004, $46 — A more mature wine, hence its reddish-brown hue in the glass. A big sweetness factor (9 percent alcohol) and pronounced “syrupy” texture. One taster said it felt “coarse” in the mouth … Good aromatics with scents of dried raisins and apricots … “Stewed” fruit flavors led to a thin finish … Sigalas yielded mixed reactions, from “intensely sweet and one dimensional” to “Vinsanto on steroids.” … SWEET BOMB: Dip a walnut biscotti in the glass for 15 seconds, then savor it in your mouth as it crumbles into a honeyed, spicy treat.
SWEET GROUP: The tasters included, from left, Mike Kiskiel, Roy and Claire Jamieson, and Pat Monteperto.
SWEET GROUP: The tasters included, from left, Mike Kieskel, Roy and Claire Wilson, and Pat Monteperto.
• Vinsanto Santorini 2007, $30 — The least expensive and most aged — 8 years in oak barrels — was the hands-down No. 1 choice … 11 percent alcohol level mutes the sweetness and enhances the pure expressions of dried fruit … Complex aromas and flavors … Elegant … A Vinsanto for the gods. Put a bottle between Apollo and Aphrodite and watch the skies open up with bronze-colored raindrops and a fragrance of orange peel, raisins, sweet nuts, coffee and sour cherries … Flavors are layered with lemon and honey … SWEET BOMB: Pour over mocha ice cream sprinkled with raisins and nuts for a nectar of the gods extravagance!