The warmth of Europe in your glass… or coffee cup

Wintery weather still seems like a remote possibility in Perth right now, but I’m sure I remember a few bitterly cold, miserable days last year… Winter is coming. F0r our friends on the other side of the world, the Winter season is more extreme and a longer affair altogether. Perhaps that’s why most European countries seem to have various traditional versions of a highly alcoholic, clear spirit – they’re just trying to keep warm. I’m thinking of Raki in Turkey, Ouzo in Greece, Marc in France and, of course, Grappa in Italy. Without the encouragement of low temperatures, most Australians seem indifferent to such spirits unless they’ve experienced them while travelling these countries. Australians also tend to consider this kind of spirit ‘rocket-fuel’ – too high in alcohol to be enjoyable.  I don’t intend to speak for the output of every country but I would like to defend the honour of Grappa and encourage you to try it for yourself when you need a warming tipple. Grappa is a part of my Italian heritage and a popular spirit with my family and Perth’s Italian community. I also just love drinking it!

There’s no denying Grappa is high in alcohol, 40 to 45% depending on the producer. The ‘fire-water’ reputation, however, is due more to backyard distilleries than the output of reputable producers. Grappa is a grape based spirit so, just like a bottle of wine, the flavour and quality of any particular Grappa depends on the grape variety used, the growing region and the producer’s process. Quality Grappa is actually soft and delicate on the palate, with varieties such as Moscato producing a light and fruity taste and others, like Nebbiolo, resulting in a drier experience. In addition to different grape varieties, you may notice either clear or  yellow Grappas: oak aged Grappa (or ‘Grappa invecchiata’ on the label) has a yellow patina and is generally dry and robust, while ageing in glass creates a clear spirit with a mellow, more delicate palate. Regions known for quality Grappa production are Geneva, Piedmont and Friuli. Producers to look out for? Nardini is the coke of the Grappa world, and Poli, Nonino, Berta, and Bepi are also prominent brands. La Vigna will be featuring brilliant Piedmont producer Mazzetti in our upcoming Grappa tastings; although distilling since 1846, Mazzetti is less well known than it deserves to be so we will try to remedy this in our own small way!

If I’ve tempted you to reach for the Grappa, you may need some advice on how to drink it. Old school Italians sometimes drink Grappa from shot glasses but it’s traditionally served (in italian restaurants for example) in small Grappa flutes or glasses. It’s customary to drink Grappa as a digestive after a meal but another surprising method I subscribe to is adding a shot to your short black in the morning, or any time. If you intend to try this very Italian coffee habit, use clear Grappa from a solid, medium priced producer – there’s  no need to spend a lot when drinking this way.

Unlike Whisky, Grappa isn’t fashionable right now but that’s no reason to dismiss it. Despite it’s reputation, Grappa is a soft, warming, subtle drink that is especially suited to the coming months. Just like wine, there’s a Grappa for all palates – you just need to find the right one for you.

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