Grappa — an artisanal spirit bearing the nuances of Italian wine’s aromatic intensity and regional characteristics — is reaching new audiences thanks to its distillation process.
The spirit, traditionally consumed by Italians after a meal or as a nightcap, results from distilling wine’s pomace (the solid raw material from leftover grapes). Given the diversity of Italian wine, grappa offers a vast landscape of flavors depending on the master distillers’ choice to use red or white grape pomace, to age in oak, or to extract specific aromatic nuances from the skins and grape flesh. The spirit ushers in an entire frontier of Italian wine appreciation by upcycling wine’s byproduct.
From the mountains of Trentino-Alto Adige to the rolling hills of Tuscany, the variety in grappa’s flavor profiles and textures can take any wine palate to new heights.
An Origin Story Ready for Rediscovery
Under EU law, bottles can only bear the grappa name if production occurs in Italy, in the Italian part of Switzerland, or in San Marino. In addition to several age and aromatic classifications, grappa is its own Geographical Indication (G.I.). It can be named after wines with Controlled and Guaranteed Designation of Origin as long as the pomace originates from the grapes used in said wine’s production.
Over the past century, there have been significant enhancements to distillation methods, particularly with the invention of steam distillation. Before this, direct flame carried out distillation, causing inconsistencies. Other modern refinements include distilling the pomace under vacuum (low-pressure), experimenting with single-varietal and multi-varietal expressions, and aging in differing types of wooden casks.
“Grappa is living in an important phase of renewal in how it communicates itself,” says Francesco Montalbano, the general manager of Tuscany’s Disitilleria Deta. “There are many new producers and consumers; it’s time to let the Grappa take its deserved place on the spirits industry market.”
Connecting scents of specific regions’ grapes are what distillers hope resonates most with consumers.
For instance, Elisa Belvedere, export manager and 7th-generation Mazzetti family member in Monferrato, explains Mazzetti d’Altavilla’s wine connection. “One of the most representative flavors of our region, Piedmont, are those of nuts — especially hazelnuts and toasted and spicy hints — in grappas deriving from Nebbiolo pomace, similar (characteristics) to Barolo or Barbaresco.”
Similarly, Anna Lena Ghiaroni of Distillerie Bonollo S.p.A. says that with thousands of variations, it is as original as the Italian people. “You can enjoy grappa either young, like our Consenso Grappa di Chianti Classico, to appreciate the multifaceted aroma of the fresh fruit, or aged, for those who love the scents of honey, vanilla, wood and toasted notes, as in our unrivaled Consenso Grappa Riserva.”
Supporting a Circular Economy
Grappa’s natural alignment with sustainability is also an attribute resonating with beverage professionals and consumers. Not only does its locality provide CO2 savings for the environment — eliminating some transport costs — but some distilleries go further by extracting other products after distillation.
“From calcium tartrate, we obtain natural tartaric acid, a valuable food ingredient used in bakeries, winemaking, pharma and the beauty industry,” says Ghiaroni of Bonollo S.p.A. “Grape seeds are crushed to give a healthy vegetable oil, and once exhausted and dry, they either go into formulations of organic fertilizers or can be burnt to get green energy,” she continues. “The circular economy is fascinating and helps reduce our environmental impact: no more residues, but new raw materials eligible to become green products.”
Storytelling from a Sommelier’s Perspective
For sommeliers, grappa offers to expand their palates from the perspective of wine while supplementing the guest’s experience.
For Jordanne Pascual, head sommelier at Principe in New York City, visiting several distilleries in Italy recently not only put grappa in the context of her knowledge about wine growing regions but also showed her how much grappa producers can create a second life of a wine through something as simple as the grape skins extracted from wine production. “Grappa has not only supplemented my wine knowledge but also, more importantly, given me another story in selling and teaching wine and spirits.”
Pascual says her background in wine pairings has also enhanced her creativity with grappa. “I can use it in a cocktail — my favorite being a lime sour with ginger-peppercorn syrup or an Espresso Martini — or as an entrée or dessert pairing.”
Pascual believes creating experiences for guests to experience the versatility of this spirit is an excellent place to start for anyone working in a similar role. “Tasting flights are always fun. It’s a great way to get guests to try something new as they show off unaged, aged, and infused grappas.”
If grappa gives wine grapes a second life, it’s no surprise that the spirit is getting a second look as an intriguing and welcoming corner of wine discovery.