Grappa is an interesting and often underrated expression. It’s a drink that’s made from distilling what’s called “pomace.” Pomace is a blend of stems, stalks, and grape seeds – basically, the bits and pieces left over after grapes themselves are distilled into wine. Not only does it create a wonderful spirit of its own, but it's an environmentally friendly process by nature. It’s a zero-waste process that uses up the extras from making wine, things that would otherwise most likely be thrown out.
Grappa itself is not an afterthought, though! It’s a strong and robust spirit that can become quite complex with the right amount of blending and aging. In fact, Grappa is often more aromatic than many other spirits as extracting the delightful aromas from the pomace is a crucial goal of the whole process and the aromas are a prominent characteristic of the finished product. The best grappa always has an aroma as strong, robust, and enjoyable as the palate and flavors itself.
For a while, grappa was more of a “mix and match” process where distillers would take pomace from a whole variety of grapes and distill it into this new spirit. Over time, however, many have started taking a more deliberate approach and distilling single varietals, and/or creating more deliberate and thoughtful blends. This has further heightened the spirit’s ultimate quality and is one of the many factors that has contributed to the solid reputation and loyal fan base that grappa has today.
The Best Grappa
1. Poli Grappa Sarpa Di Poli
Poli Grappa Sarpa Di Poli is an authentic expression that’s true to form, as “sarpa” is a term from Venetian dialect that means vinaccia, also known as the very grape solids that are used to make grappa. It’s a blended expression made from two grape varietals – 40 percent cabernet and 60% merlot.
The distillery is backed by over a century of family ownership and tradition, with recipes perfected over time. This expression is delicious when enjoyed chilled on its own, or in what’s called a cafe corretto which is simply an espresso with a shot of the grappa.
The nose is delicate and layered with notes of mint, geranium, rose petals, and fresh herbs. The palate is smooth and fresh with notes of ripe fruit and a touch of vanilla. The finish is wonderfully sweet and extremely long. Overall, the expression is quite soft and approachable as grappa goes.
2. Nonino Grappa I Vigneti Monovitigno Il Moscato
Nonino Grappa Moscato is made by one of the world’s leading grappa distilleries. Grappa used to be considered a “poor man’s drink”, but the Nonino family changed the way people view the drink by dedicating themselves to creating premium, quality grappas that elevated the drink to a whole new status. They’ve created a true legacy for themselves, still in operation today, and still family-owned.
This expression is from a single grape varietal – the moscato. The pomace from the grapes is harvested at its freshest and fermented in special copper steam stills that don’t have heads or tails. This was the family’s own innovation, created to help preserve the best and purest part of each grape.
The result here is an elegant bottle of grappa that is best enjoyed at about 12 degrees Celsius if you’d like to sip it neat. On the nose, you’ll find notes of vanilla, roses, and a variety of herbs. The palate is rich and creamy with flavors of lemon zest with floral notes in the background leading into a sweet, lingering finish.
3. Grappa Asteggiana Cristiani
Grappa Asteggiana Cristiani comes from Italy, where Mr. Cristiani takes a selection of only the very best grapes which are then put through a special system to turn them into some amazing grappa. It’s produced using an old-school system wherein the liquid is heated in a copper still and then allowed to cool. This effectively releases the fullest flavor and aroma possible.
This grappa is also unique in that it’s allowed to age for about three years and is produced and bottled in small batches each year. This is to ensure quality and consistency through each bottle, earning the Cristiani name an excellent reputation for great-quality grappa.
The delicate profile offers soft, dry aromas on the nose with an elegant, harmonious palate. This grappa is best enjoyed after a meal, sipped slowly, and savored.
4. Nardini Grappa Reserva
Nardini Grappa Reserva is a blended expression, made with three grape varietals – tokay, pino, and cabernet. They’re all harvested in the Friuli and Veneto foothills regions of Italy. They use both traditional and vacuum steam stills for distillation and the grappa is aged for a minimum of three years in Slovanian oak casks.
This is a famous grappa backed by more than 200 years of experience, giving it a perfectly balanced and harmonious profile that is perfect for many different situations. It’s recommended that you enjoy this drink after dinner and it pairs particularly well with a cigar or a little chocolate!
On the nose, it offers sweet and intense notes of fruit and sweet oak. The palate is thick and rich with wood spices, floral notes, a touch of citrus, and a bit of tannic dryness. The finish comes in strong with the taste of apple crumble and notes of soft, gentle oak.
5. Nardini Grappa Infused With Rue
This special Nardini Grappa is similar to their other expressions – made from a blend of tokey, pinot, and cabernet grapes. What makes this one special is that it is then infused with rue. Rue is a bitter herb that offers a unique flavor to the expression that really makes it stand out from the crowd.
The original intention behind this infusion was to elevate the grappa to an even more medicinal level. In the 1700s they used to use grappa to treat all kinds of things, from fevers and aches to intestinal issues. The herb rue is also quite helpful for digestion, so it was added to the mix. Today, the tradition has held on to its popularity. That, and the fact that in addition to health benefits, the rue adds a flavor that some people truly love.
The aroma is herbaceous and oily with notes of herbal spice. The palate is fresh and spicy with notes of white pepper and peppermint. The finish tastes of classic grappa with a touch of herbs.
Like any spirit, grappa has unique characteristics that can help you create a whole host of different drinks and cocktails. Though many grappas can be enjoyed on their own, they’re also naturally quite mixable so there are plenty of ways you can try them out in a cocktail and discover the different layers and nuances of each bottle.
Best enjoyed after dinner, this sweet and delicious classic cocktail is a great place to start when acquainting yourself with grappa. It’s named after a popular Italian dessert of the same name.
- 1.5 ounces grappa
- ½ ounce coffee liqueur
- ½ ounce creme de cacao
- 1 ounce espresso coffee, freshly made and still hot
- 1 scoop vanilla ice cream
To make the cocktail, simply blend all ingredients in a blender with a small handful of ice cubes. Float three coffee beans on top to garnish, if desired.
This is another cocktail that’s best enjoyed after dinner and into the evening, but for a different reason. It’s sweet and tasty while also having a calming and therapeutic element. Any grappa can work out for this recipe, but a grappa that’s been infused with chamomile is the perfect final touch.
If you don’t have one that’s already like this, you can easily make your own by leaving some chamomile leaves to steep into some plain grappa and add the flavor. Either way, this is a delicious drink that is perfect to help you wind down for the evening.
- 2 ounces grappa
- 1 ounce lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1 egg white – as fresh as possible
- Dried chamomile flowers
- Add the egg white, grappa, and lemon juice to a shaker.
- Mix the honey with a splash of warm water to help it melt, and add to the shaker once melted.
- Shake well before adding ice, and then shake again with ice.
- Once the outside begins to feel cold, keep shaking for a few more seconds to properly chill
- Strain into a chilled glass.
- Add chamomile flowers to garnish.
The chamomile is calming and a bit refreshing at the same time, while the lemon juice adds a nice tangy element to balance everything out and give it a little kick of flavor. It’s the perfect solution for those that like a late-night cocktail but still want to get to sleep soon after – it accomplishes both!