Grappa is a strong, almost brandy-like alcoholic digestif drink made from grape pomace (the skins, stems and seeds left over after pressing the grapes for wine.) You drink it after a meal at room temperature in very small amounts. It is usually clear, though aged varieties may be brownish from the wood they are aged in.
To make Grappa, the grape pomace is fermented, then the liquid “must” produced by the fermentation is distilled, then watered down with distilled water to reduce the alcohol level to the desired amount.
After the Grappa maker has finished with the skins and seeds, the skins can be sold to be used as fertilizer, and the seeds can be sold to be pressed for Grapeseed Oil.
There are many different brands of Grappa, all of which are quite pricey. Some are lighter and grapier than others. The alcohol content of Grappa, depending on the maker, ranges from 37.5 % to 86%.
Most Grappa is not aged per se, though by Italian law, all Grappa must be let sit for at least six months before bottling. The first six months is almost always in wood. That’s not enough, however, to entitle it to be called “Aged.” To be called “Aged”, it must be aged further, either in wood or in stainless-steel tanks. Grappa that has been aged a long time in oak will take on an amber colour, which may be legally augmented by the addition of some caramel colouring.
- In order for a Grappa to be called “aged”, has to be aged at least an extra six months for a total of twelve months;
- To be called “riserva” or “stravecchia”, it must be aged at least an extra twelve months (for a total of eighteen months);
|Italian term||English translation||
|Grappa giovane||Young grappa||Aged minimum required by law|
|Grappa giovane aromatica||Young aromatic grappa||Aged minimum required by law. Made from a more aromatic grape such as Muscat, Sauvignon, etc.|
|Grappa affinata in legno||Grappa matured in wood||Aged a bit more than required by law, but not long enough to be called aged. Aged in wood.|
|Grappa affinata in legno aromatica||Aromatic Grappa matured in wood||Made from a more aromatic grape such as Muscat, Sauvignon, etc. Aged a bit more than required by law, but not long enough to be called aged. Aged in wood.|
|Grappa invecchiata||Aged Grappa||Aged for at least 12 months in wood casks.|
|Grappa invecchiata aromatica||Aged Aromatic Grappa||Made from a more aromatic grape such as Muscat, Sauvignon, etc. Aged for at least 12 months in wood casks.|
|Grappa riserva or Grappa stravecchia||Age Grappa matured in wood||Aged for at least 18 months in wood casks.|
|Grappa aromatizzata||Flavoured Grappa||A flavuring such as Rue, Cinnamon, etc, is added.|
In Italy, there is a National Grappa Institute (Instituto Nazionale Grappa, founded 1996), as well as ADID (Associazione Degustatori Italiani Grappa e Distillati, founded 2000), both of which promote and protect Grappa, and support research into improving techniques.
Grappa is governed by EU Regulation No 110/2008, passed in January 2008, and by Decree 11A12466 passed on 8 August 2011 by the Ministero delle politiche agricole alimentari e forestali. Grappa can only be made in Italy, though in practice most is only made in the north of Italy. [Ed: By Italy is meant not the Italian peninsula — the phrase used is “territorio nazionale”, which excludes separate states inside Italy such as San Marino and Vatican City.] All raw materials must come from within Italy and manufacturing, bottling and aging must happen within Italy.
Grappa Production began in South Africa in 1994, but in order to get a trade treaty and some financial assistance from the EU, in 2000 South Africa agreed to stop using the word “Grappa.” A product called Grappa is still made in California and called Grappa.
When made in Italy, such a drink is called Grappa. When made in France, it is called “marc”, or “eau-de-vie de marc”; in Spain, it is called “aguardiente.”
Candolini Grappa Ruta
Ruta means Rue in Italian. This Grappa has a piece of rue in the bottle to give the Grappa a bitter taste.
Don’t add ice or soda water, as Grappa doesn’t go well with either.
A shot of Grappa does, however, go well in an espresso. This is called “Caffè Corretto” (“corrected coffee”.) It is sometimes even drunk for breakfast. You put part of the shot into the espresso, drink the coffee, then swirl the remainder of the shot in the espresso cup to clean it out and drink it. It’s hardly likely the taste of the coffee needing correcting: more likely, the practice came about because both the coffee and the Grappa were drank after the meal, and it was the taste of the coffee that helped subdue the taste of some of the rougher Grappas.
Though Grappa is meant as a digestif after a meal, in many small towns in northern Italy men will gather after church on Sundays in local bars or “osterie” for something like a shot of Grappa, while the women are at home organizing the Sunday lunch meal.
Grappa promoters get carried away with themselves and say that Grappa making goes back to the 5th century: they’re forgetting that Grappa is a distilled product — and that distillation was not discovered until the 10th to 11th century by the Arabs.
Historically, Grappa has been a Northern Italian peasant drink, made out back in animal sheds out of the sight of tax collectors and police. It often had an associated farmyard whiff and kick to it, and so was mostly a man’s drink, like Kentucky moonshine.
The transformation of Grappa into a premium drink began in 1973 with a woman, Giannola Nonino, who had inherited the Nonino distillery, when she launched the first super-premium grappa. It was a monovarietal grappa made from a native Friulian grape called “picolit.” She also insisted on using only freshly-pressed pomace — back-garden varieties usually start from pomace, often from a mixture of grapes, that has sat around for days first. The single variety allowed her to give her Grappa a focussed flavour.
Grappa can also be described as Pomace Brandy, grape marc, or grape marc spirit.
It used to be called aquavite or acqua vitae. In the 1950s, they came up with the word “grappa”, taken from the medieval town of Bassano del Grappa, in Vicenza, north-eastern Italy.
Some bottles still don’t say “grappa” on them, perhaps just something like “Bevanda spiritosa” (“spirit beverage”.)
Pomace in Italian is “le vinacce.”
Bruni, Frank. A Dynamo and Her Daughters Turn Leftovers to Gold. New York Times. 6 December 2003.
Burros, Marian. Grappa, Fiery Brandy of Old, Seeks an Elegant New Image. New York: New York Times. 16 March 1988.
Crosario, Beppi. Grappa: The much-maligned digestif has evolved. Toronto: The Globe and Mail. 6 December 2011.
Ray, Jonathan. Getting to grips with grappa. Daily Telegraph: London. 26 February 2005.
Scicolone, Charles. Grappa — The Perfect Way to End a Meal. 14 December 2007. i-Italy. Italian/American Digital Project. Retrieved October 2009 from http://www.i-italy.org/bloggers/960/grappa-perfect-way-end-meal