Cocktails and Spirits with Paul Clarke: Getting a Grip on Grappa


Grappa by Nardini

Virtually everything in the world of spirits is an acquired taste, but some tastes take longer to acquire than others. In today's Washington Post, Jason Wilson tackles a tipple that can be a particularly rough one to get accustomed to: grappa.

Wilson doesn't beat around the bush when it comes to the way most people view this spirit (which is made from the grape pomace left over from pressing wine), asking rhetorically right at the outset, "You're afraid of grappa, right?" Wilson writes that Italian winemakers looking to jump on the grappa bandwagon in the 1980s and 1990s bear a lot of responsibility for the spirit's shabby reputation; by viewing grappa as a marketing tool for their wines, many wineries contracted out production to distilleries that didn't have the expertise, the access to quality pomace, or the attention to detail that the making of a good grappa requires.

But while many producers still churn out the kerosene-like substandard grappa that Wilson describes as smelling like a pet shop, premium grappas can be a wonderful thing. Wilson recommends Nardini, which has a long reputation for making excellent traditional grappa, along with Poli, which takes a more innovative approach and is planning on introducing grappas that have been aged in used port and sherry barrels.

My own initial experiences with grappa were of the "Ooh, it burns! Make it stop, make it stop!" variety, and while I've tried a few good grappas such as those recommended by Wilson, grappa is still pretty much virgin territory for me. Fortunately, there are many ardent fans of this rustic spirit. Are you one, and if so, what brands and types would you recommend for those pursuing a grappa education?