Grappa, the fiery spirit lives on

on 30/09/10 at 5:36 pm


Once the crude, fiery drink of Italian peasants, grappa has now acquired top-shelf status alongside single-malt Scotch and great Cognac. And some of the very best examples of this husk spirit are proudly South African. 

South Africa boasts a long and proud brandy tradition, but production of pomace brandy or grappa only dates back to 1994 when the wine industry was deregulated. In some ways this is a good thing, as it has enabled local wine and spirit lovers to embrace what they see as yet another example of ‘cool Italia’ – perhaps with an espresso after a good meal at a fashionable Italian eatery – largely unaware that grappa hasn’t always had a good image, let alone the prestige of premium spirits like Cognac or Scotch.

Closely related to French marc (the difference being that marc typically has more colour and a smoother mouthfeel from being aged in oak barrels), grappa is distilled from the skins, stalks and seeds of grapes – the by-products (dare I say waste products?) of wine production. Outside Italy, at least in countries like South Africa where European Union trade agreements are in place (or supposedly coming into place) to restrict the use of the Italian name, it is often labelled rather less sexily as ‘husk spirit’.

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