WINE O’CLOCK: Take a sip of Tudor history
I am staying indoors to avoid the virus, an experience greatly improved by the arrival in my Kindle of The Mirror and the Light, the final book in Hilary Mantel’s Tudor trilogy, centred around Thomas Cromwell, chief minister to Henry VIII.
It’s a great, big pleasure and if you are stuck in a house by yourself, I strongly recommend you sit back and enjoy it, with nice glass of wine by our side.
What would be an appropriate Tudor tipple? When Cromwell dines with Eustace Chapuys, the ambassador of the Holy Roman Empire recommends “a small glass of Vin Santo”.
It’s an Itaian dessert wine made from white grape varieties such as Trebbiano and Malvasia. There is also a rosé version made mainly from Sangioves.
There are dry varieties that taste a little like a Fino Sherry but mostly it is sweet, tasting a little of honey, caramel and dried fruits .
The grape clusters are laid out to dry on straws mats or hung on hooks. They are dried to become like raisins, which is what produces the intense flavour.
Ambassador Chapuys recommends a small glass, and that, indeed, is how to drink this so-called Holy Wine. Sip it, lightly chilled, as an aperitif, or at room temperature after an evening meal.
It’s not an easy wine to find in Ireland. O’Brien’s have San Felice Vin Santo (€19.45 for a 375ml bottle), where the sweetness is balanced by a slight citrus tang.
Isole e Olena Vin Santo is another name you may find in the cellars of independent stockists. I can’t think of a substitute wine that is really similar but good quality mead might do the job.
Hazy Summer Mead from the Kinsale Mead Company (€21.99, Ardkeen Store, Waterford) is nice to sip in small measures. It is made from honey and six different berries. Like the wine, it can be served at room temperature as a dessert or lightly chilled as an aperfitif.