Straw wine, or raisin wine, is a wine made from grapes that have been dried to concentrate their juice. The result is similar to that of the ice wine process, but suitable for warmer climates. The classic method dries clusters of grapes on mats of straw in the sun, but some regions dry them under cover, some hang up the grapes, and the straw may be replaced by modern racks. The technique dates back to pre-Roman times, and most production of these wines has been in Northern Italy and the French Alps. However producers in other areas are now starting to experiment with the method.
Straw wines are typically sweet to very sweet white wines, similar in density and sweetness to Sauternes and capable of long life. The low yields and labour-intensive production method means that they are quite expensive. Around Verona red grapes are dried, and are fermented in two different ways to make a dry red wine (Amarone) and a sweet red wine (Recioto della Valpolicella).
There are references to golden sweet wines in the Mediterranean during Phoenician times. A dried grape wine known as the Cypriot Manna was described in 800 BC by the Greek poet Hesiod. The first description of the production of a raisin wine comes from Columella in the first century AD, writing about the Passum wine made in ancient Carthage. The modern Italian name for these wines, passito, echoes this ancient word, as does the French word used to describe the process of producing straw wines, passerillage. Perhaps the closest thing to passum is Moscato Passito di Pantelleria from Zibibbo, a variety of the ancient muscat grape, produced on Pantelleria, an island in the Strait of Sicily (50 miles from Tunisia) opposite to where Carthage used to be.
Strohwein or Schilfwein is an Austrian wine term in the Prädikatswein category which designates a straw wine, a sweet dessert wine made from raisin-like dried grapes. Stroh is German for straw, while Schilf means reed.
The minimum must weight requirements for Strohwein or Schilfwein is 25 degrees KMW, the same as for Austrian Beerenauslese, and these regulations are part of the Austrian wine law. The grapes are furthermore required to be dried for a minimum of three months, either by laying the grape bunches on mats of straw or reed, or by hanging the bunches up for drying by suspending them from pieces of string. However, if the grapes have reached a must weight of at least 30 ºKMW (same must weight as a Trockenbeerenauslese) after a minimum of two months, the grapes are allowed to be pressed at this earlier time.
Strohwein and Schilfwein are treated as synonyms by the wine law, and the choice between them therefore depends on local naming tradition rather than the specific material used for the drying mats for a specific batch of wine.
The Strohwein Prädikat exists only in Austria, not in Germany.
The raisin wine most commonly seen in Croatia is Prošek which is traditionally from the southern area of Dalmatia. It is made using dried wine grapes in the passito method. There are only a few commercial producers as it is typically a homemade affair.
Slámové víno is the Czech term for straw wine that, under Czech wine law, is classified as a Predicate wine (Czech: Jakostní víno s přívlastkem). Czech regulations require the harvested grapes to come from a single wine sub-region, the grapes must be dried for at least three months either on straw or reed mats or hung in a well-ventilated space, and the must weight is required to reach at least 27 °NM on the Normalizovaný moštomer scale. Straw wine in the Czech Republic is typically made from white grapes that are well-ripened and undamaged.
Vin de Paille is the French for 'straw wine', made only in the ripest vintages. Perhaps the best known example is made in the Cotes du Jura (Arbois and sometimes L'Etoile) from a blend of Chardonnay, Savagnin and the red grape Poulsard. Vins de paille are also made from Marsanne in Hermitage, and from Riesling in Alsace. In Corrèze, it is called Vin Paillé. Traditionally the grapes are placed indoors on straw mats for up to three months, and the final wine has 10-20% residual sugar, with flavours of peaches and apricots. It is an excellent accompaniment to foie gras.
Some raisin wines are produced in Greece and Cyprus. Commandaria claims descent from wine made by the Knights Templar at La Grande Commanderie in Cyprus, and hence claims to be oldest named wine still in production. Commandaria is made from two indigenous grapes, the white Xynisteri and the red Mavro, an ancestor of the Négrette grape known as Pinot St-George in the US.
Vinsanto, the hallmark dessert wine of the island of Santorini, is made of the choicest Assyrtiko grapes, vinified after a few days of sundrying. It is then barreled to mature for several years, as its capacity for aging is measured in decades.
In Italy, the generic name for these wines is passito. The method of production is called rasinate (to dry and shrivel). The Moscato Passito di Pantelleria has already been mentioned above. Other famous passitos include Vin Santo in Tuscany, Recioto around Verona, the historical (made since roman times) Caluso Passito made from Erbaluce grapes from the Canavese region in Piedmont and Sciachetrà from the Cinque terre east of Genoa.
Vin Santo is made in Tuscany from hand-picked grapes that are hung from the rafters to dry. They are fermented in small cigar-shaped barrels called caratelli, and then aged in the caratelli for up to ten years in the roof of the winery. The wine develops a deep golden or amber color, and a sweet, often nutty, taste. Vin Santo is often served as 'Cantucci e Vin Santo', with almond or hazelnut biscuits which are then dipped in the wine.
Recioto di Soave is the passito white wine from around Verona, made from the Garganega grape used in Soave. The name comes from a local dialect word, recie meaning 'ears', a reference to this variety's habit of forming two small clusters of extra-ripe grapes sticking out of the top of the main bunch, that were preferred for this wine. It seems to be an ancient wine, in the 5th century AD, Cassiodorus refers to a sweet white wine from Verona that sounds like Recioto di Soave. The classic accompaniment is Pandoro, Verona's version of panettone.
Torcolato is also passito style white wine from the region. It has a warm golden color and sweet flavor, pleasantly persistent, round and thick; it is an excellent dessert wine, one of the top national wines. It is produced in Breganze, along the Strada (or Wine Road) between the Astico and Brenta rivers, in the strip of land between the city of Bassano del Grappa and the Valdastico valley. Another match up that could be recommended is between bussolà and Verduzzo Friulano (from Friuli). Not to be confused with other types of Verduzzo produced in the Po Plain, this wine, produced in the Friuli hills, is sweet, full-bodied.
More famous are the passito wines made from the blend of red wine grapes typical of Valpolicella : 40-70% Corvina, 20-40% Rondinella and 5-25% Molinara. The grapes are dried on traditional straw mats or on racks on the valley slopes.
There are two styles of red passito produced in Veneto. If fermentation is complete, the result is Amarone della Valpolicella ("Amarone" - literally "extra bitter", as opposed to sweet). Amarone is a very ripe, raisiny red wine with very little acid, often >15% alcohol (the legal minimum is 14%). Typically Amarone is released five years after the vintage, even though this is not a legal requirement. The pomace left over from pressing off the Amarone is used in the production of ripasso Valpolicellas. Amarone was awarded Denominazione di Origine Controllata status in December 1990.
If fermentation is incomplete, the result is a sweet red wine called Recioto della Valpolicella. Fermentation may stop for several reasons including low nutrient levels, high alcohol, and Botrytis metabolites. Grapes dried in the valley bottoms are more prone to noble rot and are favored for Recioto, whereas grapes intended for Amarone are dried on the higher slopes to avoid Botrytis.
Passito di Caluso, precious straw wine made from Erbaluce di Caluso best grapes harvested, it stays 6 months on straw mats to dry, then after a soft pressing it goes in oak barrels for at least 4 yrs. before being bottled. It is one of the three historical passito wines: Pantelleria, Sciacchetrà and Caluso.
A number of wineries produce straw wine, known in Spanish as vino de pasas, including Bodegas Oliveros and Bodegas Gonzalez Palacios. Most involve a blend of two grapes, the first one usually a Muscat.
Barcelo Winery produces an apparently well-known straw wine known as Caballo Blanco. The primary grape is an Alexandrian Muscat.
Some California wineries are experimenting with the vin de paille style. Tablas Creek Vineyard, in Paso Robles, make one from 100% Roussanne, one from 100% Mourvèdre, and one from a blend of Roussanne, Viognier, Grenache blanc and Marsanne, while cult winery Sine Qua Non makes one from 100% Sémillon. Qupé, in Santa Barbara County, makes a vin de paille from 100% Marsanne, sourced from the Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard.
Barboursville Vineyards in Virginia produces a straw wine in the Italian passito style, based on Moscato Ottonel and Vidal grapes. Potomac Point Winery, also in Virginia, produces a straw wine based on the Petit Manseng grape.
In Texas, it was illegal to make wine from dried grapes until 1999, when following pressure from Shawn and Rocko Bruno, who wanted to recreate the raisin wines of their Sicilian heritage, the Alcoholic Beverage Code was amended.
Ravines Wine Cellars in the Finger Lakes produces a vin de paille from Chardonnay grapes. The cool climate of the Finger Lakes gives the grapes a good acidity like the Jura region of France.
A single Danish winery, Vester Ulslev Vingaard, has made wine from dried grapes since 2007. The varieties used are Léon Millot and Regent. The grapes are dried for 3 – 4 weeks using forced ventilation. During that time the grapes lost between 25 and 30% of their weight, the remaining juice being similarly more concentrated. The wines produced are red, dry wines with a level of alcohol of around 13%. In 2010, which was a difficult wine year in Denmark resulting in low sugars in the grapes heat was used for the drying process and the reduction in weight amounted to 50%. The wine produced in 2010 had a level of alcohol up to 14%. Vester Ulslev Vingaard sees the use of dried grapes as a means to make more powerful wines in a cool climate and also, as in 2010, a means to redress deficits in concentration and sugars in bad seasons. In 2010 a double-fermented (ripasso-method) wine was also produced using the pomace of the first wine.
Straw wine in popular culture
- In The Silence of the Lambs (novel), Hannibal Lecter eats the census taker's liver with fava beans and a "big Amarone", rather than a Chianti as in the film version.
- American Indian Computer Art Project page on Pantelleria
- The Quality of Foods and Beverages: Chemistry and Technology. ed. George E. Inglett & George Charalambous. Academic Press Inc. 1981. ISBN 0-12-169101-2.
- Kambas, Michele (May 21, 2005). "Cypriots thought to be first Mediterranean winemakers". Kathimerini (Reuters). Retrieved 2007-04-03.
- Article on italianmade.com about Moscato Passito di Pantelleria.
- Wines from Austria: Quality Designations in Detail, accessed on May 22, 2008
- Bundesgesetz über den Verkehr mit Wein und Obstwein (Weingesetz 1999) - The Austrian Wine Law - updated until BGBl. I Nr. 87/2005, § 11. Prädikatswein
- Czech Wine Fund: Viticulture Act of 2004", pg. 10, (Czech Language), Accessed: January 13, 2011
- Wine of the Czech Republic: Description of Wines", Accessed: January 22, 2011
- De Trafford 1997 Vinter's Notes
- Italianmade.com article on Recioto di Soave
- Tablas Creek wine list
- Barboursville wine list
- Potomac Point wine list, CellarTracker entry
- Bill SB1676 of Texas Legislative Session 76(R)
- Welcome to Ravines Wine Cellars
- "Vin de Paille: A Dessert Wine Making Technique for the Obsessed" from the Tablas Creek Vineyard blog