How well do you know Grappa? Probably not well at all unless you have an Italian heritage or you enjoy drinking fine Brandy. Grappa is a spirit with its foundations in wine. On 11 October at The Michelangelo in New York City, Scott Rosenbaum, Grappa expert, opened the doors into the world of Grappa GI. The fascinating exploration increased my knowledge of a drink my family enjoyed growing up in Italy, a drink my family from Rome to Torino to Melbourne, Australia, to Vancouver, Canada, still enjoys today.
When asking producers if Grappas derive from wine, they reply yes. If you ask producers if Grappa tastes like a spirit, they reply yes. The reason why the answer remains yes for both questions easily distills once you understand the process of how producers make Grappa. Part of the process involves distillation. Distillation then would infer Grappas have an alcoholic component as all spirits do, but then the wine component serves as the foundation of Grappas, so Grappas involve a lovely unity of both. To my mind, I can’t figure out why only just a few elite drinkers who adore brandy also enjoy Grappas. One reason might be that individuals, not informed about Grappas, do not know how to drink them or ask for them. Nor do they understand how lovely Grappas savor with the right combination of food or even can be mixed as a cocktail.
Indeed, more fully examining Grappa one understands its components. First, it begins its journey after vintners press the juice of the grape varietals. After this process, the pomace, which combines into the seeds, stems, skins, and pulp left over from the winemaking can be used to make Grappa. By distilling the pomace at various temperatures with various grape varietals, then matures the result, one structures variations of this fine drink.
Hence, the pomace materializes the essence from the grapes in the stems, pulp, etc. And these manifest the characteristics of the terroir, the weather conditions and the environment of a particular harvest. Thus, inherent in the foundation before distillation would be the epitome of a harvest’s goodness, retained in these “leftovers.”
Depending upon the varietals, whether white or red, various Grappas convey their differences based upon the harvest and other elements. Sometimes, Grappas’ aromas convey everything from herbs to berries and heartier fruits like peaches and melons. Other times, the Grappas have a floral tinge. However, in the distillation, the seeds produce the oils inherent in certain spirit drinks. So unlike wine, one does not have to aerate and open a Grappa by swirling it in the glass and letting it breathe.
Certainly, Grappa flows in a different manner than wine. As a combination wine-spirit, Grappa does well in the front of the palette in sips. One does not enhance the taste by moving it around the mouth as one would circle wine around one’s tongue. Its nature speaks of subtly, and like the most exquisite, rich food, Grappa necessitates a gentle acquisition and approach to appreciate its tonal luster.
A Grappa’s feel is different as is the nose and the complete experience of drinking it. Even the glass shape remains uniquely separate from a wine glass or even a liquor or brandy snifter. That particularity makes getting to understand and know Grappas fun and interesting.
If you prefer gulping down beer and downing alcohol for the buzz, you probably won’t enjoy Grappa. Gulping Grappa as horses slosh down liquid, will yield an astringent, acrid taste. You best serve the delicacy of Grappa’s uniqueness by savoring it. One slowly sips Grappa and allows it to take over one’s palette by degrees. Indeed, Grappa cultivates you before you cultivate it as an acquired taste like caviar. Like Brandies, Grappas tend smack of sophistication.
Stolid beer drinkers who despise artisanal beers as effete will equally despise Grappas. Unless they become introduced to their excellence, they won’t even know to ask for a Grappa to cleanse their palette during a four course dinner. Nor will they appreciate it as a soothing after dinner drink. And they wouldn’t ever imagine a mixed cocktail using Grappa.
Grappa’s place in the spirit family follows under Pomace Brandy. If you enjoy fruit brandies like Calvados or Pisco, Grappas will appeal. Likewise, if you favor grape brandies like Cognac and Armagnac, you will more readily favor Grappa. Because sensitivity and savvy spirit drinking habits along a continuum open one’s amiability toward Grappa, these qualities embody the Grappa drinker.
Some of the more interesting features of Grappa that I learned from Scott Rosenbaum concern the numerous types of Grappa. A specific grape variety may constitute a Grappa. However, to receive a legal designation, 85% of the named grape must constitute that Grappa as a monovarietal.
Aged Grappa or unaged? Indeed, some Grappas’ after distillation age under the one year limit. To receive the legal designation of “vecchia” a Grappa after distillation matures in wood for at least 12 months. Additionally, the legal designation “riserva” or “stravecchia” denotes a Grappa which matures in wood for a minimum of 18 months after distillation. An aromatic Grappa (aromatica), sustains a lovely nose because aromatic grape varietals like Muscato, Traminer, Sauvignon constitute the spirit’s foundation (pomace). And yes, producers aromatize Grappas. As such flavored Grappas produced by steeping herbs or spices in the spirits offer herbaceous or spicy subtle notes on the palette. Common botanicals might include berries, citrus, roots, honey, rue.
At the tasting I savored twelve Grappas from Italy. As a side note, a true Grappa designation must be from Italy. Like Proseco, no substitutions apply. Indeed, the spirit cannot classify as Grappa unless Italian producers constructed the spirit.
Grappas I favored include Bepi Tosolini Cividina Grappa produced in Friuli-Venezia Giulia. The white color of this Grappa generates aromas and flavors of white flowers and fleshy orchard fruit. The spicy finish endures to the medium length. The varietals include Moscato grapes with Merlot; however, the Moscato prevails in this spirit which gently takes over ones palette and sits there with grace.
Another Grappa I enjoyed, Mazzetti d’Altavilla Grappa di Moscato hails from the Piedmont region of Italy. This particular and aromatic Grappa scents many pleasures on the nose. One experiences wide-ranging aromas of tropical fruits, and florals of honeysuckle and orange blossoms. The palette commensurate with sensory detail like the nose remains bright and piquantly lively. Like the first Grappa, the finish lengthens over a medium range.
The third Grappa featured here, conveys a smooth palette. Distillerie Faled Grappa Gutturnia Invecchiata from Emilia Romagna sports a unique Grappa. Producers age this Grappa in an inert vessel for many years after distillation. Then they mature it in barrels for 18 months. The surprising conclusion results in a gold Grappa with balanced alcohol content that imbues flavors of blackberry, dried cherry, and vanilla. The nose pleasures with berry notes and vanilla scents and the tannins because of aging in an inert vessel integrate modestly and subtly.
Looking to cleanse your palette during a rich dinner or even settle into a heavenly place after a sumptuous dish that you cannot finish but wish to? A Grappa will please. One can also tease one’s favorite bartender by asking him or her to make a cocktail using Grappa. If they stare at you with a look of surprise, give them this website: hellograppa.com. You will make an impression about a unique spirit-wine that is on the brink of coming into its own.