Sweet Heavenly Fire – Grappa

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One evening after a filling dinner, I searched my liquor cabinet for a ”digestivo”.  Amaro or Grappa – a difficult choice but I selected “Il Merlot di Nonino” Grappa. I drink Grappa occasionally and never have loved it, but on this night, the aroma and taste were “spettacolare” (spectacular).  I was intrigued with this different experience so I searched for an explanation – does Grappa improve with age?

I was introduced to Grappa as a young adult when I would visit my grandpa, Ottavio Rossi. Every season he made barrels of old-world, strong red wine (petrol-like flavor) in his Long Island basement. After wine-making, he would fire-up a home-made still to cook leftover grape skins, seeds and stems into transparent firewater (papa’s “grappa”). I suspect that Papa never sipped his grappa straight; it was an additive to his morning espresso.

Grappa is made by distilling the pomace (left-over stuff from wine-making), adding some water and the resulting clear liquid “brandy” has strong aromas which capture the essence of the varietal (ie Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo). The minimum alcohol strength is 37.5% (same as ethyl alcohol) though many Grappas clock-in at 40% or more.

There are two types of Grappa:

– YOUNG grappa is left bottle — AGED grappa is right bottle

·       YOUNG GRAPPA is clear in color, aged less than 6 months, stored in steel or glass (not wood), fruity aroma and taste derived from grape varietal used in wine-making.

·       AGED GRAPPA is yellow-hue color, aged for minimum of 12 months in wooden casks, smoother on the palate, aroma and taste derived from wood container.

Notable producers of Grappa exported to USA are Jacopo PoliNardini, and Nonino. Many grappas are produced in northern Italy’s wine-making regions such as Veneto, Piemonte, Trentino and the flavor profile varies based on the grape blend used.

Purists use modern Grappa stemware

Salute!

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