What is Grappa?
A fragrant, grape-based pomace brandy of Italian origin, Grappa has been around for ages. Grape pomace which includes all the solid matter, i.e the grape skins, pulp, seeds, and stems, remains after the juice is pressed out and fermented. Grappa has an alcoholic volume of 35 to 60 percent.
Grappa is produced by hundreds of wineries and distilleries throughout Italy, with approximately forty million bottles of it being produced every year. The grappa distilleries which have been run by the same families for several generations beam with pride when talking about their product and its heritage. Grappa is now a protected name in the European Union (EU), so the drink can only be called “grappa” if it is obtained from and produced in Italy.
The History of Grappa
According to Jacopo Poli, one of the foremost authorities on the history of grappa, the production of grappa began in the 19th century. Bassano del Grappa, an Italian town close to the city of Venice, has been the historical home of the drink, with several of the country’s distilleries based in it.
Many Italians were first introduced to grappa after World War II. During the war, Italian soldiers on the war front were issued rations of grappa by the Italian army. This practice encouraged the consumption of grappa and its establishment as a national drink.
In the latter half of the twentieth century, several industrial grappa producers began to dominate the domestic market, and also to export grappa around the world.
How is Grappa Made?
Grappa making involves either a mixture of pomaces from different grape varieties or pomace from only one grape variety. The grappa can be designated “di vitigno” or “varietal” if at least 85 percent of the pomace is obtained from a single variety of grapes. Also, the type of grape can be included in the name of the drink. For instance, the name “Lorenzo Inga Grappa Di Moscato Italy” has the “Moscato” grape variety incorporated into it.
Unlike other pomace-based spirits, grappa is obtained from the direct distillation of grape pomace. The pomace, which must be in a dry form, is subjected to another process of distillation, which extracts the remaining flavors from it before disposing of the waste. Then the grappa is either bottled immediately to create white grappa or aged for at least 6 months in wooden barrels to create yellow or brown-hued grappa.
Based on different methods of distillation, grappa can be categorized into two types, namely industrial and craft grappas.
Industrial grappa is produced by the continuous distillation method. The pomace is introduced in a big column and is exposed to a flow of hot (at a constant temperature) steam from the bottom to the top of the column. The steam becomes rich in alcohol and finally condenses to make an alcoholic mixture. This crude liquid is then treated in a rectifying column to provide the distilled spirit (grappa). Among the industrial producers of grappa in Italy, Nardini is a big name.
Craft grappa is produced by the discontinuous distillation method. The pomace is distilled in tiny batches, and so this method involves intermittent separation and extraction of the distillate. Initially, the pomace is warmed-up in a boiler with increasing temperatures. The actual distillation of the pomace begins when its alcoholic content begins to evaporate. Once the distillation process is complete, the boiler is loaded with new pomace and distilled in the same manner. Craft grappa is made by a small number of Italian artisans. For instance, a craft grappa called “Lorenzo Inga Grappa Di Gavi Di Gavi Italy” is produced by the Inga family from Italy, who have been running this business since 1832.
How to Find a Good-Quality Grappa
The fact that hundreds of places in Italy make grappa is what causes the inconsistency in the quality of the drink across the country. The major difference between a good-quality grappa and the one of poor quality is the base material, i.e. the pomace, and ultimately, the grapes.
Grappa is more commonly made from a variety of grapes, with the pomace coming from an equal variety of wineries. Since such a grappa is all mixed up, you tend to get a more general flavor of grapes. On the other hand, the really well-made, and more expensive grappas are made from a single grape variety. Hence the first thing to look out for, while finding good grappa is a single grape distillate.
For first-timers, it’s best to go for reputable, high-quality producers who only put their name on a good-quality grappa.
How to Store and How to Serve Grappa?
Grappa bottles must be stored upright, and away from direct sunlight and heat. Once open, make it a point to reseal the bottles between serves as grappas gradually lose the fine aromas due to oxidation.
In Italy, grappa is mostly served as an after-dinner drink or to begin the day with espresso coffee. Additionally, grappa makes an interesting cocktail base.
Young and fragrant grappa should be served chilled (9-13°C) while aged grappa at a little below room temperature (15-17°C). The best choice of glass for serving grappa is a medium sized tulip shaped glass to allow for its aromas to be enjoyed. The glass should be filled one-third or less for keeping the vapors further from the nose.