The Stills at Nonino
Nonino relies on pot stills to produce their grappa. The first step ferments the grape pomace in large tanks, before then putting the fermented solids into the still. Many grappa producers distill pomace with stems mixed in. However, doing so generates a high level of methanol, demanding an extra step after distillation to remove the methanol from the final beverage.
Nonino believes removing the methanol also impacts the aromatics and flavor of the final drink. Their goal is to retain the characteristics of the original fruit in the grappa as much as possible. So, Nonino removes all stems from the pomace before fermenting the skins.
Putting the pomace into the steam still
Once the pomace is fermented, it's removed from the large tanks and put into individual steam stills. The stills are filled by pouring grape pomace onto a metal basket inside the still, creating what are essentially pomace cakes. Five cakes are stacked inside the still. The separated layers of pomace, and the holes in the bottom of the basket allow high pressure steam to push through the pomace pulling the alcohol and aromatics from the cake up into steam pipes.
The filtering system
The steam pipes push from the pot still through a four-level column filter, with heavier alcohols staying in the lower levels of the filter. The heavier alcohols caught in the filter column are then sold for other applications in industrial use.
Checking the aromatics
After filtration, the steam passes through a condenser and is gathered in a tank. Nonino is able to track the quality of their grappa through a special station after the filter, just before the condenser, where they can open a valve to check the aromatics as the steam passes through the pipes. By tracking the aromatics they can tell if filtration has to be repeated. Once done, the grappa is put in tank to get ready for aging or bottling.
Recycling the cakes
Once the distillation process is complete, the pomace cakes are removed from the stills and sold for recycling. The left over pomace can be used to produce compost, or bricks for burning. The seeds can also be gathered from the pomace and made into oil, or beauty treatments.
Aging the grappa
Nonino does all of its distillation within two months of the year, only during the grape harvest. Though it is legal to vacuum seal, and store the pomace to make grappa throughout the year, they believe that aromatics and quality are lost both from the vacuum sealing process, and storage.
Once the grappa is complete, a portion of it is aged in wood barrels. Unaged grappa remains clear. Nonino does not add any color, but as the grappa is aged its color darkens. Nonino continuously experiments in small batches with barrel types. However, they currently use mainly French oak and white cherry for aging.
The Noninos produce not only aged grappas, but also vintage grappas, which make it possible to taste the differences of harvest from year to year, as well as the secondary flavors of aging.
Just a Spritz
Grappa is traditionally served chilled and neat, though you can also drink it on ice with a twist. While in Italy, the Nonino family also showed us what a great addition grappa can be to cooking. By adding a spray top to the grappa bottle, single varietal grappas could be spritzed to the top of an appetizer just before serving for a subtle touch of fruit and flower.
Mix it up
Amaro is an Italian herbal liqueur traditionally enjoyed as a digestive after dinner. It's made by soaking a mix of roots, herbs, berries, and citrus peel in a neutral liquor base until the flavors have seeped into the alcohol. What makes Nonino Quintessentia Amaro special is their use of grape distillate as the base, resulting in a smooth, rich texture, and subtle flavor.
Mixologist Davide Girardi of Udine, Italy offered this simple suggestion for a tasty way to enjoy amaro. His suggestion is to make what is essentially an Amaro Mojito, using amaro instead of rum. To make it, muddle a lime, then fill the glass with ice and pour the amaro on top. Add a spoonful (or two, depending on your preference) of cane sugar. Stir vigorously and top it with mint.