We love grappa. The purity and finesse that true master distillers can instill in their spirit is often stunning, reflecting the varieties and the land that crafts it. Below is a quick lesson on how it's made, what makes good grappa, and how to drink it. Tag your friends who need to learn more about this sometimes misunderstood spirit!
Making grappa is a reasonably straightforward process, but the distillery needs the right equipment and the right material to make a good quality product.
First, the marc. The marc is essentially the skins, seeds (and often stalks) leftover from the winemaking process. Essentially, it's the solids left after the wine is pressed off. These carry all of the flavour, alcohol and character of the grappa, and as such the fresher the marc, the better. Marc is at its finest as soon as it is pressed off at the winery.
The first image demonstrates the single, or 'pot still', which takes much longer than a quicker 'continuous still' but as a result allows the completeness of the fragrance to be extracted from the fruit, rather than hard alcohol. This is the second ingredient for excellent grappa. It works like this:
The Pot – Heats a mixture of marc and water
The Column – Separates the alcohol and aromatics from other compounds
The Coil – Cools the ‘vapour’ so the grappa condenses into liquid
The Bell Glass – Measures the alcohol
The Receiver – Stores the grappa over multiple distillations
400kg of Marc makes 2L of head, 3L of tail, and about 15L of heart. The head and tail are the first and last parts received after the distillation, and are always discarded. They contain methanol, which is unpleasant at best and harmful at worst.
Once the heart is received at around 80-85% alcohol,it's always diluted with pure water before either being bottled, or sent to oak barrels for further ageing. After dilution the finished product is usually between 40-55% alcohol.
The 'naked' grappa is elegant, fragrant and often carries many of the sweet fruit characters of the grapes from which they come, and are usually had in a tulip glass.
Barrel aged grappa is often a lesson in complexity, with spice, tobacco, leather and vanilla dominating the aromatics. Great grappa can live for 30 years in a barrel before being bottled. These oaked versions remind of great Cognac or Single Malt Whiskey, and as such should be tasted from a brandy balloon.
The best producers understand that their equipment is a vessel through which the grape's true character should be expressed. No manner of technology can speed up such a delicate process. Just ask our great friends at Grappa Marolo.
Making poor grappa is simple. Making good grappa is more time consuming, takes a deft touch and a keen eye. Next time, why not taste a grappa from the top shelf, it will make your night.