t is a Wednesday aernoon in November
1965, and three Italians from the same
northern village are using an extremely
cheap, ery spirit for very dierent reasons. A
mother pours out a shot of the wet re from an
unassuming metal jar—a ubiquitous container
seen in every single home in the area. She cradles
the drink in hands lovingly and makes her seven-
year-old boy consume it before he begins his cold
morning walk to school.
Next door, a grimacing farmer pours huge
amounts of the liquid all over his freshly wounded
leg. As the boy walks on he waves to a shop
owner sipping a copita of the spirit along with
his morning coee. Sometime aer 1970, that
same humble, commonplace elixir began a rapid
journey. Straight into an alcohol stratosphere of
high-end crystal bottles and price appreciations to
rival any tulip or internet bubble. In 2007, one can
now shell out 100 quid or more for a single bottle.
is is the story of Grappa.
Grappa and its cousins are made from the
distillation of leovers. Pomace, the starting
material, is a general term for the solid remains
of olives, grapes or other fruit aer pressing—
usually done to produce oil or juice. If one
takes 100 kilos of grapes and presses them for
wine, about 25 kilos of solid gunk remains.
is pomace, or “vinaccie” in Italian, is mainly
Cinderella to Queen
By Keith B. Homan
collecting any of that sin swill. Next comes out the
“heart”, a clear run that is condensed into the nal
product. Aer the heart, the distiller must again
be sure to not collect the nal run, the “tail”, full
of bad tasting oils and associated impurities.
Some modern-day variants no longer use just
the pomace, but venture a tad far from tradition
by using whole grapes. e best of the current
Grappas only use, in single-malt Scotch and
ne-wine fashion, selected pomace from a single-
grape varietal, terroir, rst pressing, etc. Giannola
Nonino apparently invented the modern-day
1be Casfello ßanF vlneyard esfafe ln 1uscany.
1radlflonal Grappa glasses and decanfer.
comprised of the grape skins, seeds, leover pulp,
must, and perhaps a few stems. ese remnants
have been traditionally used for fertiliser, animal
feed and spirit production. Once properly
distilled, and optionally aged in barrels like ne
Scotch, the end product is called: Grappa (Italy),
Marc (France), Orujo (Spain), Raki (Turkey),
etc. Grappa diers from things like Cognac and
Brandy by the fact that the latter two are produced
when normal winemaking processes are taken the
further steps of distillation and wood aging.
e distillation process has two main types:
continuous (used for industrial quantities,
automated), and discontinuous (constant
monitoring and tinkering employed by masters).
Perhaps surprisingly, Grappa is made, by
law, without the addition of water during its
distillation process. erefore, the pomace must
be heated as a solid to extract the alcohols. How
do they do that? Steam. In the “discontinuous”
process, a distiller must make the very important
distinction between the varied runs of liquid
belting out of the steam inferno. e rst to
come, the “head” contains highly volatile, and
oen poisonous compounds such as methanol,
esters and acids. Extreme care is required to avoid
Purlsfs preFer fbe Fnesf Grappa From fbe |rlull, venefo and 1renflno reglons.
ln lfaly, Grappa ls
prlmarlly served as a
°dlgesflvo¨ or aFfer-
dlnner drlnk. lfs maln
purpose was fo ald
ln fbe dlgesflon oF
beavy meals. Grappa
may also be added
fo espresso coFFee fo
creafe a caFFe correffo.
Anofber varlaflon ls
fbe °ammazza caFFe¨
[llferally, °coFFee-
klller¨}. fbe espresso ls
drunk Frsf, Followed
by a Few ounces oF
Grappa served ln lfs
own glass. 1baf'll blow
fbe cobwebs away.
ight to quality by turning a “Cinderella into
a Queen” via the use of single varietals. Much
like the current marketing orgy of ornate vodka
bottles tempting a visually distracted public, the
“pretty bottle” syndrome is in full eect in the
Grappa world. Buyer beware.
An Italian wine and spirit expert, Marco
Barat explains some of the reasons for his
Grappa passion. “Grappa is the most ancient and
traditional distillate of northern Italy,” he says.
“It began over 1,500 years ago when feudal lords
would ‘donate’ grape pomace to the peasants.
e lords kept the wine, of course. And with
distillation, Grappa was born. Legend says it
began in Friuli, but it spread quickly trough all
the Tre Venezie—the three northeastern regions
of Friuli Venezia Giulia, Veneto and Trentino
Alto Adige. For centuries Grappa was semisweet
and was used daily, especially by labourers
as nourishment and as a quick energy boost.
[Perhaps the Red Bull of the time?]
“e weather in these regions can be quite
cold in autumn and winter and Grappa became
‘holy water’ for the people. It was always a
‘blend’ of leover pomaces, never a sophisticated
beverage until 1 December 1973, when the
Nonino family created the rst monovarietal
from the Picolit grape in a separate distillation.
Luigi Veronelli, the most important writer of wine
and cuisine in the history of Italy, aer tasting it,
simply wept and wrote an ode to it. To this day
the Picolit Grappa is unique and amazing, with
aromas of honey, acacia owers and ripe apples.
“A revolution took place in the next 30 years
and all regions now produce Grappa from many
types of varietals. Ribolla, Verduzzo, Picolit
and Moscato are sublime. Amarone, nebbiolo,
sangiovese are popular, and international varietals
like chardonnay, cabernet, and merlot are also
increasingly nding favour.
“A few great producers include: Nonino,
Jacopo Poli, Bepi Tosolini, Bertagnolli, Bonollo,
Sandro Bottega with the Alexander line,
Bonaventura Maschio, and Andra da Ponte. In
texture, aromas, complexity and overall quality,
many top Grappas are fantastic and have nothing
to envy any other spirit. Purists still seek out
Grappa only from Friuli, Veneto, and Trentino.”
From scab maintenance to snooty decantings,
Grappa’s voyage has been a fast, and now
delectable, ride.
--c c -
c.- . 'c ´c
Nose: so, deep, anise, tangible raisin
Taste: rich, smooth, round, anise, earthy, serious
Summary: brilliant and complicated, hopefully
like your signicant other
Nose: less so than the di Nonino, some sharp
ridges, raisin
Taste: round, rich, caramel, late anise, late earth
Summary: excellent and deep
Nose: so, shallow anise, mild raisin
Taste: vegetal and mineral, round, slight anise
Summary: very good
Nose: fresh spring rain, cedar
Taste: hollow but powerful, bit of a burn
Summary: quite good
Nose: at, anise, water
Taste: smooth, not too much avour, vodka
Summary: good, but a lot like vodka
Nose: weak, at anise
Taste: round and wet
Summary: good