domenica, aprile 20, 2008



Posted by natashalardera

For many, their first sip of grappa is an unforgettable experience. This crystal-clear, complex, high-alcohol brandy at first is rather harsh. Drinking grappa is an acquired taste, still rough sometimes but rather elegant. It’s strange to use the adjective “elegant” to describe a drink that began its history as a cheap, inebriating beverage for peasants in the wine-making regions of Italy, but grappa has indeed developed a great deal. Now women are grappa’s greatest admirers and faithful consumers. A study showed that females between 30 and 45 who have a sophisticated lifestyle, simply love grappa. Drinking grappa is cool, trendy, and rather chic.

Grappa in a nutshell

Hundreds of years ago, the wealthy landowners made wine, which they sold at prices too high for the farmers. So the latter, needing some sort of “relief” after a hard day in the fields, or just to keep warm, made do with the leftovers, known as the pomace (or vinacce): pressed fruit, skins, seeds, and stems which they distilled into grappa. We must thank the same farmers that Italian cuisine has become so good and authentic.

Grappa is a brandy unique to its kind. The basic rule that differentiates it from all other products is that the pomace is distilled with boiling water and the extraction of alcohol is done through a flow of hot steam. Eau-de-Vie, instead, is obtained with the distillation of the washing waters of the pomace.

There are two distillation methods: the first is a continuous process, which finds its application in the industrial production of grappa (tons of vinacce are distilled in gigantic conveyor-driven machines). The second is a discontinuous distillation, which is used by small producers. This system is the most traditional and is still used by the so-called Master Grappaioli (Master Grappa Makers). It requires constant attention to the process of distillation, indeed the grappa maker continuously corrects the style of distillation by an ever-changing manual ability determined by the characteristic and type of pomace put in the boiler. The effect of the discontinuous system is to allow for a slow distillation and an accurate fractioning of the boiling liquid. Some of the historic families of producers that are considered masters are Poli, and Nonino.

Only grappa made in Italy is real grappa

In 1989, the European Union pronounced Grappa an unrivaled Italian product. Although other countries produce similar liquor, only in Italy the name grappa is used. In France this type of liquor is called marc while in Spain it is called orujo.

From then on grappa became the symbol of a country, a patrimony to protect and respect, a way of working and producing unique to Italy. Grappa comes from grapes that need to be in a certain area (mostly in the northeast of the Italian peninsula), and that can be worked only by the expert hands of Italian Master Grappaioli. The poor man’s drink has become a product of high quality targeted to refined enthusiasts worldwide. It is what cognac is for France, or Vodka for Russia, with only one difference; grappa is produced in limited quantities. Indeed, the levels of production are only a third of the overall cognac manufacturing. Italian distilleries now produce more than 40 million bottles of grappa per year.

The secret of this growing success, resides in the ambitious research and production programs that producers have embarked on. Along with the improved quality of the grapes, one of the most important developments is soft pressing: Since the grapes are never pressed dry, considerably more substance remains behind. In the case of white grapes these gently pressed skins are usually not fermented with the must, but rather bagged. Red vinacce, on the other hand, do participate in the fermentation, where they gain alcohol as they provide tannins and other compounds to the wine. In the past vintners pressed them when they racked off the newly fermented wine, but today they prefer not to (or just press them lightly) because the wine that's extracted tends to be overly tannic and bitter. A study, performed by the association Mondo Grappa, has announced that, in the last ten years, the most successful producers have invested 4-6% of their overall earnings in research.

The success of grappa is in the hands of women

Nowadays, many distilleries find their strength in their female employees. Women are successful not only in the commercial side of the business but mostly in the marketing and promotional departments, as well as in production and quality control. Thanks to the intervention of women, the quality of grappa has evolved thus reaching the highest level of refinement in taste, packaging (which is more elegant and captivating than before), and communication. Indeed, the majority of the leading grappa producers of the present employ women in key positions. Some of the most known women in the business are, Livia Bertagnolli (of Distilleria G.Bertagnolli), the Nonino sisters (of Nonino), Lisa Tosolini (of Tosolini), Claudia Mazzetti (of Mazzetti d'Altavilla) and many more. “Women,” Ms. Mazzetti has declared, “have proven to be demanding admirers of grappa. They love the smoother and more aromatic kinds. They represent the so-called “bevitore meditativo,” a drinker used to a slow but knowledgeable tasting, performed in a meditative way in order to appreciate the vast variety of aromas typical of grappa.” Ms. Mazzetti is the president of the Associazione Donne della Grappa, a society of women (founded in 2001), who work as producers, technicians, promoters, bar owners and simple consumers of grappa. “Grappa is continuously evolving to be a product of high quality,” adds Ms. Mazzetti, “ to be tasted with knowledge in order to be appreciated fully.”

Grappa crosses all frontiers and travels abroad

In the last ten years, the export of grappa was only 10% of the entire production, with Germany being the highest (70%) consumer. Nowadays the numbers have seriously increased (ten times more) and countries that never showed an interest in the product before are importing it. In France, sales have doubled, and grappa can be found in supermarkets, while in England companies are showing interest in producing it with the assistance of Italian experts. Exports are high in Denmark, Germany, Russia, Canada, the Czech Republic and North America.

In the U.S. it’s now possible to find it in most Italian restaurants, liquor stores and online. Generally the most famous brands are the easiest ones to find but smaller producers are finding their niche as well. Grappa has even reached the North Pole! Indeed, the Accademia della Grappa e delle Acquaviti, the national association of all Italian distilleries presided by Alessandro Francoli (of Distillerie Francoli), went on a mission to observe the status of the eco-system which is strongly threatened by the melting of glaciers. Francoli actively supports the Impatto Zero (Zero Impact) project, a program dedicated to the safeguard of our planet. Francoli is producing eco-friendly grappa, meaning that the company’s productive process does not weigh heavily on the environment and contributes to the health of the world’s forests. The trip to the North Pole was also an occasion to taste grappa (Francoli’s Nebbiolo grappa) at zero latitude. The process wasn’t a simple tasting but a well-structured class.

Studying grappa: The Accademia della Grappa e delle Acquaviti

In 2003, the Accademia della Grappa e delle Acquaviti, the national association of all Italian distilleries, was created as a special branch of the well-known Scuola Vitivinicola ed Enologica in Conegliano, thanks to the support of the University of Padova and the National Grappa Institute. The academy is a fully operational campus where experiments and research are operated daily. The projects are many, but the main one is to create a refined and genuine product. The curriculum is divided into three different areas: Research and experimentation focuses on distillation experiments; in Market monitoring products are tested for quality, price point and sales, and in Production seminars experts and aficionados discuss new trends and methodology. The tasting process is taught in a special program called Scuola del Naso (School of the Nose), directed by a woman, Maria Luisa Tonielli. The course teaches how to set apart and appreciate the richness of natural aromas and the different varietals of grappa. Tasting should start with young grappas, followed by the old, the aromatic and the flavored ones. When tasting more than one grappa of the same category, the first one must be the lightest in alcohol content. Between one tasting and the other it’s good to drink a sip of milk to cleanse the palate.

The different flavors of grappa

There are hundreds of highly individual, significantly different styles of this fiery distillation, which have great depth and character. Grappa of Moscato, Grappa of Sangiovese, Grappa of Montepulciano, Grappa of Verdicchio, and Grappa of Nebbiolo are all different types of grappa with individual tastes, which vary according to the grapes that are used. Other flavors of grappa are also being made, using fermented fruits like pears and prunes, honey, flowers or herbs, to give them distinct tastes.

There are also aged grappas, some so complex because they are aged in a series of different woods (such as oak, birch, and juniper). At first all grappas are clear, but later they get coloring from the wood in the barrels where they are stored.
Grappa is often tasted with chocolate because it helps bring out the fruit flavor of the liquor. Chocolate covers up the potency of the liquor and makes it taste less strong. Grappa is best served in small stemware, with a narrow bowl to capture the fine and delicate aromas that emit quickly when poured. In Italy grappa is consumed mostly individually but it is often added to espresso (this is called caffè corretto). A less known variation is the ammazza caffè, where the espresso is drunk first, followed by a few sips of grap

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