Hello Grappa, Nice To Meet You, Again

Hello Grappa. That is the name of a group that is working together to promote Grappa around the world.

Grappa is an Italian spirit that usually brings to mind older men in the Veneto having a glass after dinner or in their morning coffee. But no more. This limited vision of the use of Grappa on a wine list is surely about to change., The Grappa that we tasted at a recent seminar sponsored by AssoDistil in New York City showed the breadth and diversity of what is going on in this corner of the spirits world.

Grappa, like Marc and Orujo, is in the family of pomace brandies made from grapes and is obtained from the distillation of fermented or semi-fermented pomace. It can be distilled using steam or by adding water to the still. Pomace is not a great word and one of the producers challenged those in attendance to come up with a new one. In Italian, one would just say “vinacce” which encompasses skins, stalks and seeds that remain after the grapes are pressed.

While Grappa has been in the US for many years, few have it significantly placed on their lists in any eye catching way. Scott Rosenbaum, who led the seminar and runs the spirits division of importer T Edwards, made a number of suggestions that made a lot of sense. Firstly, he noted that the placement of Grappa at the end of the list and the end of a meal needed to be changed.

He also suggested that Grappa can be used in cocktails much the way that Pisco, a fruit brandy from Peru, is used and can be served in a drink before dinner as well in its traditional placement as a digestif. Rosenbaum also compared Grappa to Tequila or more aptly Mezcal, spirits from Mexico that have created a stir among bartenders and their clientele in recent years.

Grappa can only come from Italy and the name comes from a local town where the spirit was born. It must be sold with an alcohol content of no less than 37.5%. It’s name is protected under European Union regulations and has its own Geographical Indication designation of GI and can be produced throughout Italy.

History says that Grappa was born out of necessity by farmers. While some of it used to be used as fertilizer for the land, it really took hold as a drink among the lower classes because the landowners would pay their peasants with the remains of the grape harvest. Farmers traditionally hate waste and made the best use of the pomace as a bulwark against the cold winter. Italian soldiers were also given rations of Grappa during World War I. Grappa changed after World War II and together with the rest of Italy underwent an economic miracle. It became a softer spirit.

Grappa is made into a host of styles today and in Italy, a sommelier will often present a beautiful tray of Grappas to choose from. They are single variety grappas and multi-variety ones. If the variety makes up 15% of the blend, it must be listed on the label. Producers noted that one of the biggest differences with today’s Grappas is the way that the control of the pomace is regulated. In the past, quality control standards were not what they are today. Today, pomace is often treated the same way that grapes are with a high level of care and selectivity.

People also used to only see Grappa as a colorless neutral spirit that was sold young and aged in stainless steel or glass containers. Today’s Grappas can also be aged from 12 months to 18 months in barrel. If aged for less than 12 months it is called a young Grappa, for 12-18 months an Old or Aged Grappa and if aged for more than 18 months, a very old Grappa or Riserva.

Grappa can be aged in a variety of barrels that bring different flavor such as tobacco, coffee, smoke s to the spirit: oak, ash, chestnut, cherry, acacia and almond. The color of Grappa that has been aged in barrel can also be surprising. They take on the hues of the brown spirit world with amber, copper and mahogany.

Some Grappas are also called flavored Grappas, ones where an herb or fruit is added usually to a colorless Grappa for a few weeks. Glassware for serving Grappa will also depend where it comes in a meal. In a cocktail, the choice is made by the particular drink or stemware used by the venue. For tasting Grappa, like an aged Tequila, the best glass is a 100-150mm pot;bellied one or a cognac glass.

Grappa should usually be served cold with young Grappa at 9%-13% and aged Grappa at 17%. Suggestions of cocktails that could use Grappa rather than their classic spirit included a Grappa Mule, a Grappa Sunrise, Grappa Libre, Grappa Mojito, Passion Grappa, a Grappa Sour, and a Grappa Espresso to replace the Grappa shot at the end of a meal.

Apparently, Grappa can also be used in cooking. One appealing recipe was for Roasted Veal with pistachio and Grappa while another was for Grappa and Chocolate cookies. Pairing the flavors of the variety used to make the Grappa and the other ingredients in the dish would be key to find the right pairing of course.

At the seminar we tasted 12 Grappas. Brief tasting notes from a few of the Gappas we tasted at the seminar are listed below:

Castagner Suite No5 Grappa Prosecco (Veneto) 40% abv – distilled from the Glera grape

Roberto Castagner has created a Grappa System that is trademarked for controlled fermentation through the addition of selected oenological yeasts. It also ensures that the pomace is kept under good conditions at the right Ph inside tunnels of plastic food film under pressure.

Undergoes vacuum batch distillation. It is distilled five times hence the name. Smooth, enveloping aromas of apple and pear with floral notes.

Bonollo It’s Grappa! (Toscana) 39.7% abv

Bonollo Distilleries Spa was founded in 1908 in the Veneto by Giuseppe Bonollo. In 1918 his son started the winery in Formigine (Modena). This is a more traditional Grappa with notes of valley floor, grass, acidity and length on the finish.

Bepi Tosolini Cividina Grappa (Friuli-Venezia Giulia) 40% abv

Created in 1943, today is run by the third generation of the family. Colorless, this Grappa had aromas and flavors of apples, white florals, nuts and spice. Made from a blend of Refosco, Friulano, Moscato and Merlot pomace.

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