Grappa finally getting some respect

on 02/01/11 at 1:38 pm

Spirits

Grappa, a grape-based brandy made from the residual gunk left from the winemaking process, is one of those genius creations that is basically something made with leftovers, a way of making the most of the materials at hand. But, like patched blue jeans, sausage, and chicken stock, it has a utility and a spirit all its own, and some of us have come to love it as much as the wines that it’s a byproduct of.

It should be said up front that grappa — particularly bad grappa — has a reputation for ripping off your face. The worst stuff can have a burn and bite. One wine writer described bad grappa as tasting “like a fermented compost heap.”

But that’s really changing, and the bad stuff is less common now. Grappa was once considered a rough, working-class drink, but over the last 40 years or so, it has become more refined and even delicate. What was once made from a mix of the pomace (grape pulp, stems, skins and juices) from whatever wines were being made is now made using specific varietals, so the grappa retains the flavors of the particular grapes from which it’s made. Grappas are now made from sangiovese, barbera, nebbiolo, chardonnay and other famous grapes. And now some distillers even make grappas from obscure varietals such as fragolino, ribolla, and pignola.

And the taste? It’s intense. Fiery and sweet. Part raisin and part wood. And part vapor. It pulls in two directions at once, up through the top of your head and down into your knees.

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