Friday, June 1, 2012

Booze Clues: Getting a Grip on Grappa


Grappa Hooked


I tend to sip a bit of grappa after my meals at Italian restaurants, but I’ve never really paid much attention to it otherwise. A recent visit to a VIAS Imports wine tasting changed that, though. While sipping, swirling and spitting my way through a number of flavor options and new products I also learned that there’s quite a bit to know about the grape skin spirit. First off… it’s not technically wine. Also, ordering a good one or being able to appreciate one that’s ordered for you can earn you a few sophistication points. Here’s the rest of what I learned from Maro, a rep for the Bertagnolli Distillery…

Grappa-grappino lt.1. What's so special about grappa? How is it different from other wines? What is the general alcohol content?
Grappa is an alcoholic drink made exclusively in Italy by distilling marc, the solid residue of skins and pips which remain after the grapes have been pressed for wine making.  Grappa is not a wine, but a spirit. The alcohol content can be between 36% and 60% abv. , and generally is commercialized with 40-42% abv. (FYI, abv is alcohol by volume. You know that already, though, right?)

2. What are some of the stand out characteristics of grappa's flavor?
Just as with wine, grappas’ flavors are determined by the type of grape. Grappa Moscato is floral and fruity with notes of exotic fruit- it’s elegant and fragrant; Grappa Amarone is strong, clear, fruity with notes of prune and currant.

3. How do you know the difference between a really good grappa and a lesser quality one? What's an example of a really good high quality grappa?

A good grappa should be harmonic, elegant and the flavors of the vine have to be immediately recognizable. A good grappa doesn’t burn, but gently warms the mouth. A low quality grappa smells musty, of burning or of smoke.

4. Are there different categories of grappas (like fruity, dry, semi-dry, etc.)? If so, what are the ones most commonly found at restaurants? Which is the sweetest in flavor?
There are a few categories of grappas:

  • YOUNG OR WHITE: bottled at the end of distillation, or after a period of rest in steel vats. Is has not been transformed in any way and it is colorless with a delicate aroma and a direct, delicate and clean taste
  • 1870 Riserva GrappaRESERVE OR VINTAGE GRAPPA: bottled after it has been aged for at least 24 months in oak barrels. It has an amber color and a smooth delicate taste.
  • AROMATIC GRAPPA: obtained from the marc of aromatic grapes, e.g. Moscato or Gewurztraminer
  • AROMATIZED GRAPPA: made with the addition  of herbs, roots or fruit that give it particular aromas and flavors, e.g. mugo pine, gentian, blueberry, etc.

Usually a restaurant has one or two grappa types. The sweetest in flavor are the aromatic grappas, like Grappa Moscato or Grappa Gewurztraminer.

5. Wine cocktails are becoming more popular. Are grappa cocktails joining that trend?
Adding other flavors into Grappa to make cocktails changes the flavor of the spirit completely. Usually for cocktails we use Liqueurs- like Limoncello.

6. I noticed your company makes grappa liqueurs. Is this common in the grappa industry?
It’s really common to produce grappa and then add some fruit flavors to create a drink that’s more sweet and low in alcohol- no more than 28%-34% abv. (My personal favorite at the tasting was the Grappa e Miele, or Honey Grappa.)

Bertagnolli Distillery*A note about  the Bertagnolli Distillery: Founded in 1870 by Guilia de Kreutzenberg and Edoardo Bertagnolli, the Bertagnolli Distillery is the oldest distillery in Trentino Alto Adice. Their grappa is produced using the distillation by the discontinuous alembic “waterbath” system, which was created in 1949 by Franco and Mario Bertagnolli, using the Zadra Column. This enables The grappa to be distilled only once, therefore keeping most of its flavor. The result is a Grappa that’s really high in quality, soft and velvety.

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