At a late dinner last night the conversation turned to grappa. It would seem that people either love it or hate it rather like Marmite.
I like both but obviously not at the same time. Grappa is similar to the French Marc or the Spanish Orujo or the Portuguese Bagaceira and is made by distilling the pulp, seeds, skins and stems that are left over from the winemaking after the pressing of the grapes. It started life as a way to use everything that came from making wine and provided farmers and growers with a strong drink to keep them warm in winter. It is considered here as in other countries as a great digestivo at the end of a meal and is usually served chilled from the fridge. It needs dark and cool to stay at the height of it’s taste.
Grappa in the main comes from the North of Italy and much from the one area up there, the Veneto region. Indeed legend has it that the first grappa was made by a Roman soldier in the 1st century AD in a town called Bassano Del Grappa using distilling gear he stole from Cleopatra’s palace.
Grappa’s real success as a worldwide drink and brand owes itself to one woman Sra. Giannola Nonino owner of the Nonino distillery. She almost single handedly in 1973-5 introduced a single grape grappa and marketed it to the Italian government to use at State banquets as well as giving it free to key Italian restaurants around the world and to top journalists. The rest as always is as they say history. Now it is a brand name protected by the EU and cannot be used outside of certain regions in Italy.
All grappa made in Italy must be distilled for 6 months. The result is a clear liquid. Some producers then put the grappa in oak barrels and the grappa takes on a yellow colour and becomes invecchiata ( aged) . Some then take is a step further by leaving it even longer and it becomes stravecchia ( very old) which is how I feel the next morning if I had too many the night before.
My enoteca ( wine store) guy reckons the clear grappa is the only one to drink and the best come from Veneto and are single grape based. I actually prefer the invecchiata myself as the grappa I buy isn’t expensive ( €12-€15 a litre ) so the aged seems to take the “wow that’s rough” taste from it.
As you can see I do keep both in the fridge in case someone wants one or the other. It is a good idea to always have some to hand. Italian guys that pop in to say hello at around 5 p.m. aren’t looking for a cup of tea and whilst some will agree to una birra most will be much happier when you say “vuoi un grappino” ( you want a small grappa) . It is amazing how many bills are brought around at that time. You also need it in the winter if you have guys working outside to make their early morning caffe corretto.
I personally believe it has great medicinal attributes too. I rubbed it on a tooth abscess and within a day it had gone and whilst my mother in law was waiting for her pace maker to be fitted she swore blind that a small grappa when she felt faint as her heart slowed on occasions got it going again at a decent pace.
My most expensive grappa was on the Grand Canal in Venice. I got a little carried away and had three. The bill, which was in those days in lira at about 2,000 to the £1, had so many zeros on they almost couldn’t fit on the page. I needed a pacemaker just to get over the shock.
Some Mahler to close.