Passito divides enthusiasts. On average, it is a much-loved wine, but some avoid it altogether. When you try the right bottle, however, it is hard not to be deeply fascinated by it. So let's see what there is to know about Passito wine.
Let's start with the basics and see in 11 simple points what Passito wine is.
1. What is Passito wine?
A wine made from grapes that have undergone even partial drying: natural (on the vine) or after the harvest. No sugar may be added..
Passito wine is usually made from white grapes, but there are also raisins made from red grapes. Generally, these are aromatic grapes, thus rich in terpenes. Among the many are Moscati and Malvasia. But less aromatic grapes that provide complex, fresh but also fragrant wines can also be used, such as Chardonnay and Riesling for whites and Merlot and Pinot noir for reds.
2. What is the origin of Passito wine?
The origin of Passito wine is lost in the mists of time. Homer speaks of it as the pearl of antiquity. To preserve their wines, the Egyptians, Phoenicians, Greeks, Etruscans and Romans used to dry the grapes in the sun, directly on the vine or in dedicated rooms.
3. I never drank a Passito, what should I expect?
Amber colours, soft and intense aromas, sweet and velvety flavours, fresh, persistent, complex. Full-bodied.
4. At what temperature should the Passito be served?
The white Passito between 10 and 12° C, the red Passito between 14 and 16° C.
5. What is the perfect glass for Passito?
Passito requires small glasses with a long stem.
The amount of wine poured will be small, given the high sugar content and also the preciousness of the nectar.
6. What should Passito be paired with?
Passito is traditionally paired with desserts, blue or very mature cheeses.
But the Passito is also a fantastic meditation wine, according to the famous definition of the great Veronelli, for conversation... so the perfect accompaniments for the Passito are also an excellent book, a cigar, a special person.
7. What are the great Italian Passiti wines?
Among the many: Picolit dei Colli Orientali del Friuli, Passito di Pantelleria, Erbaluce di Caluso Passito, Albana di Romagna Passito..
Among the red Passiti we mention Sagrantino Montefalco and Moscato di Scanzo.
8. How is Passito made?
Passito wine is created from grapes that have been dried (naturally on the vine, so we speak of overripe grapes, or after harvesting on racks, in the sun or in airy, dry places). During the drying process, the water evaporates and the sugar is concentrated up to 40 per cent (to be clear: from 100 kg of fresh grapes, 60 kg of dried grapes are obtained, which will lead to 25-30 kg of wine). During the drying process, noble mould often also develops, which produces glycerine and consumes the malic acid, promoting further softening).
The grapes are crushed and destemmed; fermented at a low temperature (first with the skins, then without); then racking (i.e. decanting into barrels for ageing) and finally bottling.
9. Dry Passito, does it exist?
Yes: there are dry wines made from dried grapes. Among these is Amarone della Valpolicella, made from grapes dried before being made into wine..
10. So what is the 'secret' of sweet Passito?
Speaking of Passito practically always refers to a sweet wine. To obtain it, fermentation (which transforms sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide) must be stopped, otherwise all the sugar would be consumed..
11. Why does Passito cost more than other wines?
For at least two reasons: because a lot of grapes are lost in the process, and therefore little is produced;because Passito has a long production time and requires constant extra care throughout the process. The dried grapes, for example, are monitored every day, also to remove any grapes attacked by 'bad' moulds (moulds quite different from Botrytis Cinerea).
In conclusion, we like to quote Mario Soldati - who was not particularly fond of dessert wines - because he wrote some memorable pages about a Picolit from the Colline Orientali del Friuli, tasted in the autumn of 1970..
«Alcoholic, at times almost dry, but often also amabile or sweet, harmonious and very pleasant, to rival the best dessert wines known today”.
Again, he records this succession of flavours: '1. sweet, a sweet of apple and honey; 2. from honey it passes, again, to walnut; 3. a slightly bitter final taste, as of almond, or, more precisely, of that almond found inside the kernel of the peach, and which, if I am not mistaken, is given by the perch, since the Latin name of the peach plant is Prunus persica. I remember that, when I was a child, I used to love cracking peach stones to taste the almond; and that my elders used to warn me not to exaggerate: because that acid, which they even called prussic acid, in large quantities could be poisonous. I am certain, now, that the very last flavour of Picolìt is identified with that ancient, intense, robust, biting and delicious taste'.».
In these words of Soldati one can read all the depth of the great Passiti wines: they are first and foremost complex wines, rich in aromas and flavours, and know how to balance sweet notes with bitter ones and freshness.
In this, lies the magic of the Passito.