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While living in Italy, I had to try a few 'cultural things'and as I don't like coffee or smoke, I had to look in other directions. The shots in Italy are few and far between, and they don't have a binge drinking culture like ours choosing instead to drink little and often. I was warned off the drink Grappa but I wanted to give it a try.
About the drink
Grappa is a grape based brandy and just like wine, the drink can differ according to the type of grapes which have been used. After the grapes have been pressed in order to make wine, the skin and pulp are then distilled to make Grappa. It originally was created so that the grapes weren't wasted.
Legend talks of a Roman soldier creating the first drink of Grappa in the beautiful town of Bassano Del Grappo which I visited to watch the Christmas lights come on. It is a digestif which means it is meant to be drank as a shot after eating to settle the stomach after a heavy meal. It is not for the faint hearted though and it can have an extremely high alcohol content ranging from between 40% and 60%.
Price and Appearance
There are so many different types of this drink but the drink itself usually appears as a clear liquid unless something else is added to it. It is quite an expensive drink and the bottle I bought at the airport was really small and cost me around 10 Euros. It came in a clear bottle with I love Italy written on the front... And I used this to trick my friends into trying the drink.
The taste of this drink is horrendous. It has a nasty taste to it that lingers for ages and almost goes dry in your mouth. My Italian friends would make fun of my face if ever I drank it and so I wanted to see what my Welsh friends thought of it. I poured them each a shot telling them about the delicious Italian drink I had discovered.
After three, everyone downed their shots, most spat it back out and the others starting screaming in disgust. I rolled around the floor laughing and was glad that I was the only one who found this drink repulsive. It tastes so strongly of alcohol and nothing else really. It has a fiery and burning taste which you can feel all the way down your throat. It makes you feel tipsy straight away but it also makes you feel sick straight away and it doesn't sit well in my stomach at all.
How to drink it
Grappa is supposed to be drank at room temperature so it should never be chilled. I stored mine in the cupboard as opposed to the fridge. It is to be drank in shot form and not too much of it should be consumed due to the high alcohol content. I've never heard of anyone drinking the liquid with a mixer and don't know why you would want to!
All in all, this is a nasty tasting burning drink which I don't get but that the Italians love. It should be consumed in shot form in small quantities. It is a bit of a novelty drink which everyone should try once but not many will go back for seconds!
I have admitted many times on DooYoo that I have an 'eye' for a bargain and also am a bit of a cheapskate. Indeed, among my favourite occupations are to go trolling around the stores in Edinburgh Princes Street environs at the very end of the winter and summer sales. It is at these times when you really have to 'keep your eyes open' and have no specific idea of what you might want to buy. In Edinburgh, both the John Lewis and Jenners Department stores are exceptionally good for bargains at these times of year, particularly from the Wednesday through to the Saturday of the last week of their sales. And when I was in London, I recall both Harrods and Harvey Nichols as being similar. Soon be a Harvey Nicks open in Edinburgh ... Hmmm.... what pleasures to come ..... I suppose that it is my old 'hunter-gatherer' instinct that is brought out by these wanderings and this same ability and thirst for bargains has rubbed off on daughter number one, who does the same. It was she who suggested on the evening of Wednesday 18 July that there were some "booze bargains" in Jenners Food Hall. So, having returned from a quick visit to Belfast, I was soon out on the Thursday morning. Sure enough, the quarry I sought was still there, as described by my darling daughter... A whole display of bottles of Italian 'Grappa' spirit ... in beautiful rough-crafted square bottles .... labelled "Serafino ... CL 70e ..40% vol ..." and with the description on the inside of the label : "THIS FINE DISTILLATE HAVE A DELICATE BUT STRONG FLAVOUR, AND IS OBTAINED FROM THE BEST GRAPE PRESSING. PRODUCED AND BOTTLED BY THE SERAPHINI GUILIANO FAMILY FOR GENERATION FOLLOWING TRADITIONAL METHOD." (sic) Indeed, there were actually three varieties on display, one bearing a green design and labelled "Chardonnay", another with a red design and marked "Pinot&quo
t; and the other a mauve design marked "Prosecco". Obviously describing grape varieties that the liquors had originated from. So, there were these bottles ... all sexy and expensive-looking ...quite a lot of them .... but at a cost of £5.95 EACH, reduced from £9.95 !!!!. Needless to say, it was NOT just one bottle of each variety that I bought. Any interesting-looking hooch at 40% alcohol at that price MUST be a bargain, I thought. And when visiting Jenners' on 4 August - surprise !! Theye are still on sale, together with an extra variety matked "Gran Cuvee". There is also another brand, in very ordinary bottles, at the same reduced price... ORGANOLEPTIC TESTING The bottles have one of those very useful plastic restrictors in the neck, so that you can pour it with a woppish flourish, without depositing drips everywhere. Now, I did know roughly what to expect, having sampled Grappa a number of years before. It is generally a clear spirit with a slight 'floral' odour, and a somewhat 'raw' slightly acrid flavour, leaving a warm sensation in the mouth. However, there are slight but distinct differences in the flavour of the 3 varieties. 1 Chardonnay .... perhaps somewhat reminiscent of paint-stripper in odour, the rawest of the three. Not quite so good to drink on its own. Not a hint of the wine flavour. Good on ice cream, I found. 2 Prosecco ... fuller, heavier, almost 'plummy' flavour. My initial favourite here, possibly the most attractive to drink on its own, just chilled. 3 Pinot .. 'Greens' flavour, slightly more acrid ... mixes well with fresh fruit salad. 4 Gran Cuvee ... the very best of the lot. Definite 'brandy' overtones, with a 'Courvoisier'-like sweetness, but extremely 'interesting'. Would MOST definitely confuse a number of experts in a blind taste test. Watch ou
t for this. It has an orange-colour design on the label. As I anticipated, the general flavour bears some resemblance to very young, almost just-distilled Scotch that I became familiar with when working as a Public Analyst. I had been thinking of giving bottles away for presents, but Hell, it will not deteriorate with age ..... I am also trying them (enthusiastically) with a variety of mixers and will produce an update in due course. Indeed this will make a very interesting spirit base for a wide variety of cocktails ..., Brilliant, Hey !!! Rock on !! BACKGROUND & HISTORY Grappa is an alcoholic drink that has also been called "pomace brandy". According to the literature it is produced by "distillation of the fermented sediment left after pressing grapes to make wine." The typically bureaucratic Italians, through their 'National Grappa Institute' in Brescia, Italy, describes Grappa as : "the spirit produced from grape marc (i.e. from the skins of the grapes after they have been separated from the must or the wine) possibly with a percentage of wine lees. Raw materials must be obtained from grapes produced and processed in Italy, distilled in plants located in Italy and complying with well-defined requirements, as set forth by the regulations in force. Being 'good Europeans', the Italians even have a similar description embodied in an EU Regulation (No 1576/89). When I was last in Italy, over 30 years ago, Grappa was then regarded as a "poor man's drink", but apparently it is now being ponced up and marketed as a product "equivalent" to that of "Scotch whisky" or "exquisite cognacs" (yeah, right, I thought). Thus it is now claimed to be 'matured' in oak barrels. This is certainly different from what I had encountered in the Brescia Region in 1968, which I reckoned
had probably been matured for all of 3 weeks in what looked suspiciously like a collection of oil drums from the Mussolini era. One of my more erudite friends, who regularly visits Tuscany and other PC-places, tell me that the Italians now even take it for breakfast, adding it to their coffee. Now just you try adding a fine Malt Whisky to your Nescafe at Costas' in George Street in Edinburgh ! I am certain they would whisk you out of the door. Funny how the attitude in Europe is so different .... Apparently, the Italians claim that spirit production was "invented" in their country. However, one of the Italians that I met also claimed that the jet aeroplane and the steam iron were also invented in their country, so their schools are probably still using El Duce's approved Text Books. They claim more than a millennium's worth of tradition for this product, but I always thought that it was the Arabs who first invented the distillation process and brought the technique to Europe, (although many SNP supporters are convinced it was THEIR ancestors). It is generally thought that the alchemists introduced the process of distillation in their quest to produce gold from base metals, and when found it could produce a desirable fluid from wine, the basics of the technique began to spread to other parts of the old world from Mesopotamia, between 800 BC and 600 BC. A general consensus dates Grappa as at least 1500 years old, and probably introduced into Italy by some wandering Arabs. It is thought that the (resourceful) peasants in North Italy developed the equivalent of the current product Grappa not only to use up the pomace leftovers from wine production, but also to find 'escape and oblivion' from their hard work and cold winter temperatures. It is during the 1960s and 1970s, that a 'rediscovery' of Grappa occurred, thanks in part to a growing popularity of Italian cuisine and it becoming fashionable. <
br> So, Grappa is described in distillery terms as a 'marc-based' spirit. Similar marc-based spirits are produced in all the wine-producing countries - I seem to recall Rakki in Greece some years ago. The marc liquor is distilled from fermented grape skins (pomace) left over in the wine press after grape pressing for juice during regular wine-production. Italian producers have purported to have 'elaborated' their production techniques, with a variety of 'guff', such as making the "besta Grappa" after "the firsta pressing", with the marc still containing much of the original flavour of the particular grape type so that the final product is said to 'resembles' a brandy or fruit-based liquor. Since Heather & I drink the occasional bottle of Chardonnay, we were surprised that the Chardonnay Grappa bought at Jenners showed absolutely no remote characteristic that we would associate with that wine category. Typical Italian poncey description, in my honest opinion. According to a leaflet that I picked up at the Jenners store, " .... Grappa producers see their priority in quality, not quantity. Grappa is no longer just a brandy of the common man. Modernised production technologies and the competitiveness of the field have driven the trend towards marketing Grappa in creative packaging and exquisitely blown bottles of miscellaneous shapes whereby the aesthetic features of the product underline its reputable quality...." We ..eeee ..ell, Jock, I rest my case, as regards puff and poncery ... Exactly how Is Grappa Produced? PRODUCTION The main substance used in Grappa production is described as ‘pomaces’, i.e. skins of grapes pressed during wine production. Pomaces delivered to the distillery can be of three varieties, depending on the degree of their fermentation: pure (from white wines); half-fermented (from rosato); and fully fermented (f
rom red wine). During the production stages, fruit sugar is transformed into a high-percentage alcoholic fluid in two major steps: (1) pressing & fermentation and (2) distillation. The purpose of distillation is simply to separate alcohol from water; in other words to concentrate it.. Italian Law demands that the fermented pomaces must be distilled 'solid', and prohibits the adding of water. The highly volatile substances such as methyl alcohol, ethyl esters of acetic acid, and acetaldehyde have the lowest boiling point, and since high concentrations can ruin the taste of the liquor, the first fraction of the distillate (the 'head') is rejected. The desirable ethyl alcohol with other aromatic substances that provide flavour appear at medium temperatures, but still with traces of the methanol, acetate esters and aldehydes. Only this middle part of the run, the "heart" of the distillation, is condensed into Grappa. In the "tail" which is also discarded, are water and still more impurities, chiefly what is termed 'fusel oils' (including amyl alcohol) and it is high levels of 'fusel oils' that cause the heaviest morning hang-overs. The experienced distiller has to be able to distinguish between the several phases and be certain of capturing only the middle run. The more successfully this middle portion is separated from the less-desirable 'head' & the 'tail', the purer and more 'delicately flavoured' is the distillate (as with all spirit production). MATURING Grappa is said not to require such as long ageing as, for example, Scotch whisky, which must be not less than 3 years old. Indeed, Italian law requires not less than six months (!) of ageing after the production itself is complete. However, it is said that there are distilleries that not only age Grappa for six months in wooden barrels, but also add another SIX months (er .. wow
..) of ageing in airtight glass flasks or stainless-steel tanks. This added step in the production process allows producers subsequently to add more prestigious label designations such as invecchiata (i.e., aged), stravecchia (very old) or riserva (reserve). Other varieties of Grappa include flavoured Grappas produced by adding natural herbal extracts or fruits including cinnamon, hazelnut, almond and strawberry. Grappa has between 40% and 50% alcohol by volume. Besides ethyl alcohol, Grappa can be identified by more or less another 300 chemical compounds. According to the http://www.defusco.ch/grappa_en.html website "An acceptable quantity can be considered the consumption of about 1 gr. of alcohol for every kilo of weight; this quantity refers to 24 hours time, in a different way it will have to be reduced to a half " (sic) whatever THAT all means. So they recommend that I should drink 110 grams of alcohol .. roughly 275 millilitres ... about 11 measures ... just about 5 - 6 pints of Guinness equivalent ... hmmmm.... But would not wish to restrict myself to just Grappa all evening .... WHERE GRAPPA IS PRODUCED The regions Veneto, Friuli Venezia Giulia and Piedmont together produce most of the Grappa. In Italy the production of Grappa is at the moment about 33 million bottles a year. The varieties can be grouped into 3 main categories: fruity, aromatic and neutral. Apparently what I bought belong to the first of these groups which includes Prosecco, Riesling Italico, Pinot bianco and Chardonnay. The aromatic varieties include the Traminer aromatico, the Sauvignon, the Riesling Renano, the Müller Thurgau (light aromatic), the Moscato Bianco di Canelli and the Moscato d’Amburgo (intense aromatic). In the neutre category there are the Trebbiano tipologies, the Garganega, the Ribolla, etc... These can all be obtained by mail order (e.g. at www.richardgrangerwines.co.uk) but, at prices of up to £45 per 0.
5 litre, not by me. I would much rather a selection of 0.7 litre bottles of very fine malt whiskys at those sort of prices. I wonder how is Grappa classified? So there we are. There are new things to experience, even to those who can admit to becoming 'sodden' in most spirits at some time in their life. Certainly, the visit to Jenners those weeks in July and August 2001 will be remembered in the Gee household for a little while to come. I'll continue looking and go into Jenners once a week or so ... maybe it will get even cheaper ? © Sidneygee 2001
In strict technical language, grappa is a brandy however reliable sources suggest it doesn't not have the full compliment of said characteristics. It's distilled from grape pomace, skins, stems and seeds (all by-products of the winemaking process). Grappa originated in the Veneto and Tuscany regions of Italy. Measuring 40 to 50 percent alcohol by volume, it's as clear as fresh water and seldom aged. Grappa is closely related to French marc, also a pomace product, with the only difference being that marc ages in wooden barrels. The interaction between wood and spirit accounts for a softer, smoother drink. Like all unaged fruit brandies, grappa is an eau-de-vie.