Glorious Grappa! Artisanal producers reinvent Italy’s signature spirit

on 18/04/11 at 11:08 am

Wine

Artisanal grappa producers reinvent Italy’s signature spirit.

Some beverage enthusiasts have a bias against grappa.

And it’s clear (pardon the pun) how that bias originated. Grappa is a clear spirit made from the leftovers of winemaking; how can you make a fine spirit from grape garbage…Dionysian detritus?

But grappa detractors need to taste some of the artisanal versions coming from Italy these days; traditional family producers, including Nardini, Fratelli Brunello, Nonino, Tosolini and Poli, are creating grappas that deserve a second taste.

What is Grappa?

Grappa is distilled from pomace: the skins, seeds and stems of grapes, leftover after pressing them to make wine. The pomace, vinaccia in Italian, still contains a significant amount of wine, so it is pragmatic to distill it and get every last drop of alcohol. In Italy, the process is done with steam-heated distillation of the pomace, traditionally in discontinuous alembic copper stills. Heating with direct flame would burn the pomace.

Although there’s a legend that a Roman solder made the first grappa in about the 2nd century AD, the true origin is not clear. It is well documented, though, that steam distillation began to be used in about 1300 to 1400 AD, and vinaccia distillation techniques are documented in 17th-century writings of Jesuit Monks.

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