Grappa is a fragrant Italian spirit made from the grape solids left over from wine production (skins, pulp, seeds, and stems). There are about 130 distillers making grappa, primarily in the north (Veneto and Lombardy are the heartlands of grappa production). Similar products are known as marc in France where the main producing regions are Champagne, Bourgogne and Alsace. Known in Portugal as Bagacera (Baga, also a Portuguese wine variety, means “berry” in Portuguese).
Traditionally consumed as a young white spirit not particularly for profit, but rather as a way to avoid waste. Quality till the 1990s was relatively poor with consumers outside of the wine producing region only getting a taste of the mass produced grappas. Till the 90s Grappa was largely not consumed anywhere other than in Italy and France (locally, that is). Overall quality has improved drastically in recent decades. Today’s examples are characterful and represent a wide variety of styles. Of particular interest are the individual producers who have reverted back to the traditional spirit’s origins as a prudent avoidance of waste by peasant wine-makers. Much like their forbearers, they use the skins and stalks of the real grapes from which they market their real wine. There are dozens of these and the interesting ones try to reflect the character of the grape variety (with many being single, or at most, double grape variety) concentrating on extracting aromas, essence and terroir from the original grape varieties.
There are nine IGTs for grappa, as well as regulated age designations:
Giovane / Bianca: Young, un-aged grappa.
Affinata in Legno, which spends a maximum of 12 months in barrel.
Invecchiata or vecchia, aged for 12-18 months in barrel.
Stravecchia or riserva, with a minimum of 18 months in barrel. There is no limit to how long grappa can be aged in wooden barrels however there is no legal term for older varieties. Although oak is the most common variety of wood used, barrels may also be made out of cherry, ash, or even acacia.
The traditional Venetian way to enjoy grappa is known as resentin (‘rinsed’): a late-morning pick-me-up of a few drops of grappa sloshed around an almost-drained espresso cup. More complex, wood-aged examples, with rich and powerful aromatic tastes, call for sipping on their own or even with a cigar. In some countries (Malta included) certain premium grappas have become the height of fashionable drinking and are used as a digestivo after an evening meal. Each Grappa has its own taste, flavour, age, and story and we hope that you like the selection. Mixologists also use Grappa as an ingredient in cocktails for an exciting twist.
Grappa is made from the grape solids left over from wine production. Known as ‘marc’ or ‘pomace’ (“vinaccia” in Italy), it must contain alcohol before it can be successfully distilled. Red grapes will usually require little fermentation before distillation as their alcohol content is quite high, however, marc that doesn’t contain alcohol, for example white grape skins that were not fermented with the juice, is known as ‘virgin marc’ and must be fermented separately. During this time, the pomace is stored in covered silos that reduce oxidization while preserving the moisture.
The modernisation of grappa distillation is relatively recent, probably in 1979 in Northern Italy. Initially it was carried out by direct flame, however, since water may not be added to the pomace, the advantages of distilling using either steam or a bain-marie to avoid burning the solid matter, became apparent. Typical premium grappa is produced using a batch distillation process with steam-injected alembics. More affordable grappa will use continuous distillation by combing a disalcolatore to produce raw alcohol called flemma from the pomace, which is then sent to a column still. On some occasions, distilleries will use a combination of the two techniques and then blend the distillates in a similar way to producing Single Malt Scotch whisky. Like in the production of whisky, the heads and tails, which contain impurities like methanol, are discarded.
Grappa is now a protected name in the European Union. To be called grappa, it must be produced in Italy, or in the Italian part of Switzerland, or in San Marino; must be produced from pomace and lastly, fermentation and distillation must occur on the pomace—no added water. The woody parts of the grapes (the stems and seeds) are co-fermented with the sugar-rich juice. This produces a very small amount of methanol (much more toxic than ethanol). The methanol must be carefully removed during distillation. Italian law requires winemakers to sell their pomace to grappa makers as a measure against moonshine operations, which are now very rare in Italy.
There are around 130 Grappa distillers in Italy. There are nine IGTs which identify Grappas with a particular geographic and organoleptic profile. Eight of the nine IGTs are in the north of the country, including Veneto, Lombardy, Piedmont, Friuli Venezia Giulia and Valle d’Aosta. Grappa must be a minimum of 37.5% Albohol By Volume (ABV), or 40% in the case of IGT Grappas, most are around 40% to 45%.