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‘Passito’ is the Italian term for ‘dried’ and refers to wine made from grapes that have been dried after harvest. This concentrates the sugars in the juice prior to crushing and fermentation, giving richness, power and intensity to the finished wines. Traditionally, the grapes were spread out on mats in the sun, dried under cover on bamboo racks or hung up in bunches under the rafters.
Italy’s most famous passito wines are:
Recioto: Historic speciality of the Veneto, most commonly found as the sweet red Recioto della Valpolicella. The sweet white Recioto di Soave (eg. Pieropan) is more rare.
Amarone: Fermented to dryness, Amarone della Valpolicella has an alcohol level of 15-16% yet the best modern examples (eg. Allegrini) are fruit-driven with supple tannins from ageing in new oak barrique.
Ripasso: Literally ‘re-passed’, the process of re-fermenting young Valpolicella wine with Amarone grape skins (or preferably unfermented dried grapes) for greater depth and flesh.
Passito di Pantelleria: Decadently lush and complex dessert wine from the small Sicilian island of Pantelleria, made from Moscato (known locally as Zibibbo) grapes dried in the sun for up to 30 days.
Donnafugata’s ‘Ben Rye’ is a modern take, adding the dried grapes to fermenting fresh grapes to add complexity and balance to the wine.
Vin Santo: The ‘holy wine’ of Tuscany, made from dried Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes and aged in small sealed barrels without topping up, giving the wine its oxidative amber colour and distinctive ‘rancio’ character.