Citerna belongs to the Club
I Borghi Più Belli d’Italia
For someone it was born in Siena, during the furious plague of 1348, when a doctor gave it to the sick; for others, however, it was born out of an exclamation flown in the canteen of the Council of Florence in 1439 as a misunderstanding. However, it is no doubt that vin santo owes its attribute to some particular property, perhaps miraculous. Or perhaps to the sacred procedure used to obtain it.
A Work to be done with Waning Moon
«Do you want to taste this nectar? But this is not a vinsanto, it’s a nectar! Oh lovely sorbet, precious and delicate nectar». (Goldoni)
As an amber colored drink, vin santo is the finest product of the Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes, as well as the Grechetto, Cannaiolo, Vernaccia and San Colombano ones. In Tuscany it is also obtained from San Giovese grapes: so, it is called Vin Santo Occhio di Pernice.
Besides the grape variety, the creation of vin santo comes from the choice of the best bunches, with a state of ripeness not too advanced – so that the peels can resist the withering. They are hrvested and hung for three or even four months, so that they could wilt. It was a widespread belief that the bunches, single or double, would not rotten if they were hung with waning moon.
Widespread in the Upper Valley of the Tiber and in the nearby Tuscany, the vin santo acquires in Citerna that smoked note that has made it one of the Slow Food Presidia. The vast plains below the village, as well as the abundance of water, had in fact allowed the area to be elected as an ideal place for the cultivation of tobacco, intended for State Monopolies. So, to optimize the spaces, bunches and leaves were hung together, so that they could dry up with the heat of the stoves and fireplaces. Sources of heat that, inevitably, ended up also emitting smoke, giving the grapes the typical aftertaste of smoking.
A hard fermentation
The grape is then pressed and fermented – with or without marcs – in wooden caratelli with a capacity ranging from 15 to 50 kilograms. The dimensions of these containers show the quality of the drink that you will end up getting. First of all they give the measure of the production of the vin santo, extremely limited: on average a quintal of grapes, once the drying phase has finished, it reaches weighs 30-35 kilograms, and must still be crushed.
In the second instance, containers of this size allow to sacrifice only a small part of the precious vintage, in case something would go wrong during fermentation. This passage is in fact extremely delicate: given the strong drying, vin santo’s must has a very high sugar concentration which, in turn, involves a high alcohol content. The leavening agent contained in the pruine – the waxy substance that covers the grapes protecting them from ultraviolet rays and dehydration – can hardly survive alcohol contents of more than 13%, and here we are talking about values that can reach even 19%.
The producers, to solve this problem, use the scum of previous years, a sort of precipitate that, preserved from year to year and divided into the various caratelli, can stimulate fermentation. It is called mother and, since it remains in the wood of the caratelli, they are re-used without being washed first.
Once filled for ¾, the containers are sealed and stored – in the past they were placed in the attic, so that they were exposed to thermal excursions, considered benefic – remain there for at least three years. The uncertainty about the success of the wine hovers until the opening of the caratelli.
It is curious that, in Citerna, just the vin santo was used to soften the leaves of tobacco that, taken away from the State Monopoly, were hidden in tin crates and buried in the fields. Still in Tuscany, cigar smokers are used to soak them in vin santo to taste them better.