Sunday 17th December 2017

Grappa

Bassano del Grappa, Veneto, Italy

Where to buy grappa on the internet

IN UK

 

Grappa: What, Where, Who, When

Grappa is a historical Italian drink, born in the cold Alpine areas of northern Italy, and is traditionally associated - along with wine, of course - with the "Alpini", the soldiers who needed a strong drink to keep themselves warm.

Grappa is a spirit exclusively produced in Italy.

It iis an “acquavite”, namely an alcoholic product derived from the distillation of a fermented sugary liquid, usually of vegetable origin: cereals, grains, roots, starch, fruit, or wine.

Grappa is specifically a distillate obtained from the marc, the solid residue remaining from the pressing of grapes in winemaking.

Grappa is the only distillate obtained from a solid raw material, a by-product otherwise destined to be dispersed in the fields as natural fertiliser.

Distillation of spirits is somehow associated to the ancient art of alchemy, the predecessor of the science of chemistry, which for centuries tried to extract the soul, the quintessence, from solid bodies, by vainly attempting to obtain gold from all kinds of metals.

The unique use of a solid matter for the distillation of this Italian liquor is what prompted writer and film director Mario Soldati to say: "If wine is the poetry of the earth, grappa is its soul.".
 
The Italian name “grappa” most probably derives from "graspa", the name by which it is called in the dialect of Veneto and neighboring regions in north-east Italy, from where the spirit has originated.

Others say that the name comes from “graspo”, the green, woody part of the bunch of grapes, the sprig to which grapes are attached, which is the raw material for its production. Still others think that it is the Italianisation of “Schnapps”, the German term for alcoholic drink.

What is sure is that the name of the spirit does not come from the Monte Grappa, the mountain of the Venetian Prealps in the Veneto region of Italy, located between the Venetian plain to the south and the eastern Alpine ranges to the north. Therefore, there's no derivation of the drink's name from Bassano del Grappa either.

Bassano del Grappa is pictured here, with the River Brenta and the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge), aka Ponte degli Alpini, which connects the two shores of the town. Bassano is home to some of the most renowned grappa distilleries in the region.

Bortolo Nardini in Bassano is Italy's oldest distillery and one of the greatest distilleries in the world. Since 1779 its address has always been and still is at 2 Ponte Vecchio, by the Old Bridge, designed by the great Venetian architect of the 1500s Andrea Palladio, after whom the Palladian style is named and whose original concepts even the contemporary Palladian architecture still follows. In front of the Ponte Vecchio is the Grappa Poli Museum, founded by the Poli Distilleries, displaying the history of the grappa through rare manuscripts and ancient alembics.

The grappa drink has certainly a very long history and, like many other distillates, an ancient and not always known origin. We know that the distillation of wine or vinaccia was already practised already in the Middle Ages, but the result was long considered only as a medicinal drink, and the distillation tools had nothing to do with those in use today.

Grappa in northern Italy

The regions with greatest production and longest experience in the distillation of grappa are those of northern Italy: Valle D’Aosta, Lombardy, Alto Adige (the bilingual Italian˗German region also known as South Tyrol), and especially, in top position, are Friuli, Veneto (the region of Venice) and Piedmont.

And it is in Piedmont that the oldest document in which grappa is mentioned is found: dating back to 1443, it is the payment of a customs duty for an aquavit of oenological (winemaking) origin, defined in the document "Barbera and Moscato (Muscat) aquavit". Unfortunately, there is no indication of whether the raw material used in the liquor was in fact marc, which, if specified, would have put grappa on the podium of the world's oldest distillates.

Throughout northern Italy, household distillation was widely practised, although in 1627 an edict made it illegal.

Grappa is one of the few distillates that can be savoured without any ageing. and whose instant aromas can be enjoyed. By ageing in wooden barrels, it assumes the highest characteristics, with more complex taste.

Nonino and other innovative distillers in search of high quality (Bertagnoli and Jacopo Poli spring to mind) made sure that they only received the best, freshest vinaccia, kept each variety separate and started producing single˗varietal grappas.Thus grappa became a stylish drink for after˗dinner time.

Today the range of top˗quality grappas is very wide, and some leading importers to the UK, for example the likes of Alivini and Enotria. have dozens of grappas in stock.

The secret of good grappa begins with vinaccia which still has life in it and is immediately transported to the distillery. Each distiller has a personal technique and still’s shape, although the best use pot stills.

Distillation is the process through which a low˗alcoholic product is transformed first into vapour and then into a crystal˗clear liquid of great strength. A good distiller knows when the right flavours of the distillate are formed and it’s time to place it into the vessel. If one waits too long, the spirit gets stronger but the flavours get lost. Grappa’s more aromatic varieties such as Moscato are taken off the still relatively early, as the delicate aromas appear the first.

You can find grappas from Moscato, Prosecco, Chardonnay, Nebbiolo, Riesling, Cabernet, Picolit.

These varieties of grappa are sometimes aged in ex˗sherry wood, a practice also followed in certain cases by Nonino, and barriques (small, oak wine barrels historically used in Bordeaux), a method used for Rocche dei Manzoni's grappas of Piedmontese wines Nebbiolo, Barolo and Barbera.

As spirit expert Dave Broom said, writing for The Guardian:

It's only when you taste them that you realise what remarkable spirits these new spirits are. Maschio's Moscato is like the distillation of a summer day filled with jasmine blossom, while grappas from red varieties do show some varietal character, Bertagnoli's Cabernet has fruity, almost minty length, while its Pinot Nero tastes of raspberries. in whites, Endrizzi's Chardonnay has an elegant, almost nutty aroma, while Casa Girelli's Moscato has an intense, perfumed nose, a powerful palate and a lemon-fresh finish - a bigger brother to Maschio.

The whisky connoisseur goes on to say that these "hidden gems" are versatile, being able to accompany well a great range and variety of desserts.

 

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