Grappa: Clearly Fine, but Lost in the Woods? – Part Two

Last post, I gave a rundown of developing trends in grappa distilling that are clouding the clear spirit that I have long enjoyed. Despite my loyalty to traditional, unaged grappa, I don’t think all these changes, especially producers’ exploration of the effects of different sorts of wood and different periods of aging, are necessarily bad. Some in fact are quite successful. Evidently, much depends on the individual distiller’s goals and the skill he or she (a surprising number of grappa makers are young women, which in itself marks a whole new age in grappa) brings to the task.
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Here’s a quick rundown of what our group of journalists and mixologists tasted over six distillery visits on the trip sponsored by Hello Grappa last month.

 

Bonollo

Grappa “Of” is the trademark name, produced in several versions.


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  • Prosecco, nice and light, with a slightly aromatic nose, clean and lightly spicy on the palate
  • Amarone Barrique, a brandy-ish nose and palate, with slight sweetness: well made, but a touch too wooded for me
  • Amarone, a cherry nose and a complex palate, dry, cherry-ish, and long finishing: my favorite

 

Bottega

The makers of Alexander grappa, now more of a sparkling winery than a distillery, though they also make gin, vermouth, etc. Nevertheless, Bottega produces several fine grappas.


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  • Alexander Nera (black bottle), a blend of Glera, Chardonnay, and Merlot pomace, a nice basic grappa with a floral nose and a smooth, fiery palate
  • Prosecco, lightly aromatic and long finishing
  • Cabernet, typical strong red-pomace aroma and palate
  • Aldo Bottega, a blend similar to the Nera, but more aromatic and elegant, quite good in the modern (i.e., post Nonino and Poli), softer style

 

Bepi Tosolini

Tosolini was among the smallest distillers we visited, and for me one of the most interesting. A third-generation Friulian distillery near Udine that produces both grappa and “Most,” essentially a classic wine-based brandy made from local grapes.


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  • Uve Moscato, a clear grappa with a delicate Moscat nose and palate, very pleasing
  • Most Barrique Ciliegio, a blend of Cabernet franc and Refosco, aged 12 months in cherry wood and tasting pleasantly of it
  • Grappa Agricola, which I thought a classic grappa from red grape pomace – complex and deep, very clean and persistent
  • Most Picolit, sporting a great aroma of this scarce and difficult grape and feeling smooth and elegant in the mouth
  • Grappa Ramondolo Barrique, with delicate, pale gold coloration, the classic nose of this exquisite Friulian variety, and a true grappa fire softened charmingly by the wood aging – for me one of the most successful of the barrique-aged grappas

 

Castagner

A very large producer, making perhaps half of Italy’s grappa, and very interested in long aging of its grappas.


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  • Casta, which is a five-times-distilled, light, floral grappa, designed for cocktails
  • Prosecco, closer to traditional grappa
  • Amarone Riserva, which shows its 18 months of aging in cherry and oak in its woody nose and vanilla-tinted palate
  • Brunello, which receives 12 months’ aging in used Brunello barrels – for me one of the best of the wooded grappas because of the strong Brunello character
  • a 7-year-old, blended of Cabernet, Merlot, and Pinot nero, quite decent, with fruit and wood nearly in balance, especially in the peach, apricot, and wood finish

At the end of dinner we tasted a 14-year-old, a smooth, elegant, cognac-y brandy, very fine, but no longer grappa.

 

Marzadro

Another third-generation distiller, with a very modern facility in Trentino.

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  • Anforo, blended of 70% red varieties and 30% white, aged 18 months in large clay jars: interesting – a basic grappa with earth overtones
  • Moscato: very rich of the variety in nose and palate
  • La Trentina Morbida, from white grapes with slight aging; traditional grappa character
  • Giare Gewurztraminer, aged 36 months in 1,000-liter oak barrels: pale blond, delicate Gewurz nose and palate; nice
  • Dic’otto Botte Porte: aged 18 months in barrique, 18 months in Port casks; amber color, spicy-sweet nose – a pleasing sip, but for me in no sense grappa
  • Espressioni: from Merlot and Cabernet pomace, aged 6 months in American oak; dark amber and very good of its kind
  • Affina Ciliegio: from pomace of Lagrein and Pinot nero, aged 10 years in cherry wood; very nicely balanced between wood notes and grappa in nose and palate – a very pleasing combination

There are also (which we didn’t taste) Affina Rovere, from Teroldego and Marzemino, and Affina Acacia, from Muller Thurgau and Moscato. Marzadro struck me as a very thoughtful and painstaking producer.

 

Bertagnolli

The oldest distillery in Italy, located near Mezzacorona, and making many grappas, both traditional and aged. While experimenting with new styles in grappa, Bertagnolli hasn’t lost sight of its roots.


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  • Grappino bianco: grappa as my palate thinks it ought to be, of 100% Moscato giallo
  • Grappino Barrique: 85% Teroldego pomace, 12 months in barrique; still tastes like grappa, with some vanilla overtones
  • 1870 Grappa Riserva: Teroldego and Cabernet sauvignon, 5 years in barrique; slightly brassy color, pungent dried grape and wood aromas; smooth and predominantly grappa, not wood, in character, very nice – one of the most true-to-grappa characters of the aged grappas we tasted.
  • Teroldego: a lovely grappa with a nice varietal aroma and taste
  • Gewurztraminer: a slightly late harvest gave great aromatics and a classic palate – very fine

 

As you can see from all this, grappa has become a very diverse distillate. Given the many different grapes grown in Italy, traditional grappa was already quite a variable drink, and I’m afraid the tremendous variety now available is only going to overwhelm and alienate the new audience it’s meant to attract. I hope I’m wrong: Certainly, some Cognac and Armagnac drinkers should find aged grappas an attractive path into the grappa forest. But will cocktail drinkers be persuaded to wander in those woods? I guess only time will tell.

One Response to “Grappa: Clearly Fine, but Lost in the Woods? – Part Two”

  1. fromthefamilytable Says:

    Tough work but someone’s got to do it. Thanks for all of the guidance on grappa.

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