Have you ever tasted the fragrance of the vines?
It is said that between presumption and humility there is modesty, but today I have no middle ground and I would love it if, at the end of this story, you would tell me ‘Yes, you were right!‘.
How many times have we had to admit this fateful phrase (through clenched teeth of course) when we’ve messed up? If I had listened to all my grandparents’ advice, you know how much trouble I would have saved myself.
But then again, if you’re talking about ‘grandma’s remedies’ there must be a reason. What better way to cheer up than with Grandma’s magic candy, or the ultimate transgression: a sip of wine from Grandpa’s glass, all in secret. But there was no shortage of jokes! Amused by my disgusted faces, he would make me smell the taste of grappa at the end of the meal: there was no more bitter taste to run away from! Now that I’m older, I understand why he used to end the meal with that magical little glass. After all, alcohol never disappoints.
Antonella Bocchino’s grandfather Lazarito, Madame of AB Selezione Italian Spirits (one of the best grappas produced in the Piedmontese tradition), also knew his stuff, and she certainly didn’t shy away from that heady scent. She treasured all those teachings received between one walk and another in the Monferrato vineyards, her eyes full of curiosity and ready to sniff out the right vineyard to transform it into Grappa.
Before reaching the great mind of Antonella di AB Selezione, Grappa had to go a long way to be recognised in all its grace.
Piedmont is considered the cradle of this distillate, so much so that the name “Branda“, a dialectal cadence of Grappa, still exists. Let us thank and applaud our Piedmontese ancestors, because they were not fooled by the humble appearance of the ‘vinaccia‘. In fact, they reworked this solid part that remains from the pressing of wine grapes to extract its most sublime essence: Grappa. It was quite different for the noble landowners, as they saw the vinaccia as a simple waste material from wine production. They used to give it to their labourers, who would wash it down with hot water to make a simple wine for meals.
This misunderstanding about the noble character of grape pomace makes us understand why the term ‘Grappa’ did not appear for the first time until 1800, since before that it was more common to use the term ‘acquavite di vinaccia‘. Hard to believe that Piedmont is its land of origin? It was the Savoys (the rulers of Piedmont) who restricted the use of this much-loved distillate produced by the Piedmontese people. This was because grappa was no longer considered as a solution to infectious diseases but as a real distillate to be tasted. So, in order to limit its use (and that too many people raised their elbows), they instituted a customs duty for all spirits of oenological origin. If you are still unsure or want to learn more about this amusing anecdote, just read Savonarola’s treatise De Conficienda Acqua Vitae. But at your own risk: it was written in 1443, so it’s all in Latin.
But how is it possible for such an intoxicating liquid to be created from a solid waste material?
All you need is a genuine vinaccia, fermented with wine must for a higher alcohol content or unfermented, and a ‘alambicco‘ to distil it. To obtain this delicacy, the alcohol must first be extracted from the grape skins using this Piedmontese tool. By heating the mixture in a bain-marie, the alcohol and aromas evaporate. This is the most delicate part of the process because you have to reach the right temperature and the perfect level of delicacy in the method. No, you don’t need thermometers, rulers or a team of engineers, just the skill of those who know how to do this job with knowledge and passion. The alcoholic vapour obtained from this first part, called Flemma, is condensed and then further distilled to eliminate all impurities and rectified, i.e. the first part that comes out of the still (because it is characterised by bitter and unpleasant notes) and the final part (oily and greasy) are discarded. The real Grappa can only be the heart of the liquid obtained from this long process, rich in alcohol and aromatic flavours. The last step before tasting the grappa is the slow ageing, preferably in oak barrels or fine wood.
- Grappe Millesimate, rigorously selected according to the year of production: 1994, 1995, 1997, 2000 (and I am older than them, then I could be a truly unique liqueur).
- Cru Grappas from single-vine Moscato d’Asti, Barolo or Barolo aged.
- Liqueurs from the ancient Piedmontese tradition: Ananda, Cacao liqueur, Calvilla alle Mele (from the Slow Food presidium).
All these stories now make you want to believe what it really tastes like? An excellent starting point is Grappa “I Millesimi – 1994, a year, a guarantee: it is the same period in which Nelson Mandela was elected president of South Africa and Queen Elizabeth and Francois Mitterrand inaugurated the Channel Tunnel. The result is a triumph of excellence! An intense and creamy heart with notes of marron glacé, cocoa, oriental spices and dandelion honey.
To enjoy it at its best, I recommend pouring it into a large glass. This allows the distillate to take in air and release all its essence. Just the smell of it is enough to catapult you into the hills of Piedmont, strolling through vineyards rich in history and anecdotes.
Let’s not forget that everything is more beautiful when shared. The moment after a meal is perfect for creating a concert of aromas and flavours in the mouth. All masterfully orchestrated by Audere’s 61% extra dark chocolate! Haven’t you noticed this incredible combination? I can see how much you’re pining to taste this spirit, so I’m taking the opportunity to put the right conductor on stage.
Thanks to a piece of chocolate and a sip of Grappa, you can now understand why Mario Soldati, Italian journalist and television author, said: “If wine is the poetry of the earth, grappa is its soul“.
So, was I right or not?
– Until next time, With love!