What is the thread binding the Italian explorer Antonio Pigafetta with a religious Roman Catholic relic in Cebu and a typical dessert wine, made predominantly in Tuscany, called Vino Santo?
Of course, a story…
Different stories, actually, involving Italians and Filipinos and so beautifully intertwined that almost naturally we chose to name this blog as SANTO VINO, which we believe is going to be the very first Italian-Filipino Wine Blog ever.
In the Philippines, everyone knows that the Santo Niño de Cebú is an image of the holy Christ as a child. It was produced by Flemish artisans in the 16th Century, and now is located in a Church in Cebu, venerated as miraculous by many Filipino Catholics.
A less known fact is what Vicentine Antonio Pigafetta wrote in his book “The First Voyage Around the World”, that sometime in 1521 when Ferdinand Magellan landed in Southern Leyte and met Rajah Humabon, ruler of Cebu, and his wife, “He (Magellan) approved of the gift which I (Pigafetta) had made to the queen of the image of the Infant Jesus, and recommended her to put it in the place of her idols, because it was a remembrance of the Son of God. She promised to do all this, and to keep it with much care.”
Rajah Humabon and his wife adopted thereafter the Catholic faith, and the rest is history.
Pigafetta, about 500 hundred years ago, made a choice destined to influence irreversibly the hearts of millions of Filipinos. Most interestingly, cited in Pigafetta's chronicles are the many banquets and ceremonies he had attended during his stay in the Philippines where he also got to try a palm wine “called in their language Uraca” and a rice wine “which is stronger and better than that made from the palm”.
But apart from these early international "wine tasting exercises", history goes on with Pigafetta telling us that the first catholic Mass in the Philippines was held on an Island called “Mazaua” (a site controversially believed to be either Limasawa, Southern Leyte or Masao, Butuan) on an Easter Sunday in the year 1521, just a few days before the Santo Niño relic was given as a gift to Rajah Humabon's wife. During that Mass, the European catholic priest, while celebrating the Eucharist, drank the sacramental Jerez wine brought from Europe.
Thus, after the Holy Niño, we have the record of the first "sacramental wine drinking" in the Philippines; a “Holy Wine” you may say at this point, of which then translates into Italian as Santo Vino.
Coincidentally, Vino Santo is a style of an Italian dessert wine… The most likely origin of the name "Vino Santo" was the wine's liturgical use in the Catholic Mass where, through the centuries, sweet wines were gradually preferred to dry ones.
Traditionally produced in Tuscany, but also in in Veneto, Trentino and Marche regions in Italy, Vin Santo is an authorized style of wine for several Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) and Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT), top designations within the Italian quality control certifications.
Vino Santo is made from the white native Italian grape varieties such as the Trebbiano and Malvasia, although the red Sangiovese grape is used in producing the rosé style Vino Santo known as "Occhio di Pernice" or “Eye of the Partridge”. Vin Santo is a full-bodied, typically a sweet, dessert wine ranging in color from pale-gold to auburn-brown, with aroma of hazelnut, caramel, honey and dried apricot.
What makes Vin Santo truly special is its natural winemaking process that gives it a unique taste. The grapes are picked in September and laid on straw mats or hung on wire hooks for five months. In February the dehydrated grapes are gently pressed yielding a small amount of sweet juice which still retains high levels of acidity. Right afterwards, the juice is poured into oak or chestnut wooden barrels called “caratelli” where it would ferment and age for a minimum of five years.
The caratelli are placed in airy, open storages known as “vinsantaie” where the wine would feel both the heat of the summer and the cold of the winter. The following slow maturation of the wine in the caratelli would greatly benefit the Vino Santo, enriching its flavor and extending its lifespan.
All Vinsanto winemakers swear that no winery will ever make a profit from their Vino Santo production, and that making it is just a labor of love, patience, and faith.
The thread ultimately connects us to Pope Francis Bergoglio, a Pope of Italian name and descent, who drank a red Negroamaro (a wine native to Italy's southern region: Puglia) when he visited the Philippines in 2015. This event left the Filipino press nicknaming the Negroamaro as the “The Pope’s Wine”, hence: His Holiness’ Wine…
These Italian-Filipino stories perfectly suit the debut of this wine blog because, in the words of Luigi Veronelli, the legendary Italian wine-philosopher: “The wine, after the man, is the only living thing capable of telling stories”.