What is Grappa?
Grappa is a grape-based distilled spirit from Italy. It is a Pomace Brandy made by distilling the remains of the wine-making process (or Pomace) – the skins, pulps, seeds and stems of the grapes – and was originally made to ensure that there was no waste from making wine. This is similar to Chacha from Georgia, Marc de Champagne and Marc de Bourgogne from France. Grappas are usually quite high in alcohol and range from 38% to 50% abv.
How is Grappa Made?
Grappa is made by distilling the pomace which is all the leftovers from winemaking after the grapes have been pressed. The pomace fermented and then distilled in copper stills not over a direct flame but over a type of steam heated system to prevent the grape skins from being burnt. This is a relatively modern improvement as is the distillation of pomace under vacuum. The seeds and the stems, the woody parts, are also co-fermented with the sugar-rich juice – this can be dangerous because it produces methanol, this has to be carefully removed during the distilling process as it is quite toxic and can lead to blindness. The spirit is usually chill-filtered.
Grappa is an EU protected name and, for a spirit to be named such, it must be produced in Italy, the Italian part of Switzerland, or in San Marino. It must be made from pomace – if it is produced from anything other than pomace, i.e. grape juice, it is a brandy. It must also be fermented and distilled from the pomace with no water added.
Types of Grappa
Grappa may be made from a mixture of grapes or it might be made from a single grape variety, this is known as Grappa di Vitigno and can be made from many different grape varieties including Moscato, Cabernet Sauvignon, Ramandolo, Pinot Grigio and Merlot. There is also Grappa from a geographical regions such as Grappa di Barolo.
Grappa should not be confused with Acquavitae D’Uva (sometimes known as Most) which is similar but is made from destemmed grapes and is usually the most aromatic spirit produced.
After distilliation Grappa is usually rested in ash barrels for the spirit to mellow out. However, more recently there has been a trend for Grappa aged for a longer time (12 months plus) in newer barrels so that the wood plays more of an influence over the spirits. Barrels used for this can be oak, chestnut, ash and cherry. When aged like this, Grappa takes on colour and flavours from the barrels and can be much more similar to a good brandy or Cognac. It is hoped this will appeal to a new generation of Grappa drinkers.
How to Serve Grappa
Grappa is traditionally served as a digestif or after dinner drink in small tulip-shaped glasses preferably rather than shot glasses. Young Grappas should be served slightly cool at around 9 to 13C whilst cask conditioned Grappas are much better sipped and savoured from a good brandy glass at a slightly warmer temperature, just below room temperature, around 17C.
Grappa can also be added to an espresso coffee which is called a Caffe Coretto. It can also served straight from the freezer, which affects the taste, making it more subtle and crisper and perhaps more accessible to non Grappa drinkers.