Grappa is a fragrant Italian spirit made from the grape solids left over from wine production, known as marc or pomace. There are about 130 distillers making grappa, primarily in the north – the Veneto region is the heartland of grappa production.
Traditionally consumed as a young white spirit, quality has improved drastically in recent decades. Today’s examples are characterful and represent a wide variety of styles. To reflect this, there are nine IGTs for grappa, as well as regulated age designations: affinata, which spends a maximum of 12 months in barrel; invecchiata or vecchia, aged for 12-18 months in barrel; and stravecchia or riserva, with a minimum of 18 months in barrel.
The traditional Venetian way to enjoy grappa is known as resentin (‘rinsed’): a late-morning pick-me-up or post-prandial of a few drops of grappa sloshed around an almost-drained espresso cup. More complex, wood-aged examples call for sipping on their own or even with a cigar.
Grappa is made from the grape solids left over from wine production. Known as ‘marc’ or ‘pomace’, it must contain alcohol before it can be successfully distilled. Marc that doesn’t contain alcohol – for example white grape skins that were not fermented with the juice – is known as ‘virgin marc’ and must be fermented separately.
There are around 130 Grappa distillers in Italy.
There are nine IGTs which identify Grappas with a particular geographic and organoleptic profile. Eight of the nine IGTs are in the north of the country, including Veneto, Lombardy, Piedmont, Friuli Venezia Giulia and Valle d’Aosta.
Grappa must be a minimum of 37.5% abv, or 40% in the case of IGT Grappas.
Best Grappa to try:
Antinori Tignanello Grappa
An assemblage of marcs from the best lots of Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese grown in the famous Tignanello vineyard in Tuscany. Grape, pear and cream aromas are lifted by a hint of ripe raspberry. The intense, robust palate features some peachy, floral notes expanding from a lightly nutty, grapey core, with licks of red fruit. A very long, delicious finish of subtle red fruits and cream. Alcohol 42%
Cocchi Bianca Grappa
This white Grappa has a grapey aroma with hints of seawater and cream. The palate has a citrus, floral character. As on the nose it’s quite grapey in the mouth, with a sweet, creamy finish and a hint of peach. Alc 40%
Cocchi Dorée Grappa
Cocchi, based in Asti, Piedmont, produces a range of vermouths, wines and grappas. This grappa is made from Moscato from a single vineyard and aged for at least three years in oak barrels. It has a lovely peachy, yellow fruit nose with medicinal and wood-polish hints. Resinous, piney and creamy, the palate features intense, sweet yellow fruits with a finish of peach skin, nuts and pear. Smooth and vibrant. Alc 40%
Cocchi Grappa di Altalanga
From the marc of grapes grown within the Alta Langa DOCG, this has nutty, spicy scents and some floral notes along with gentle pear and grape. Rich and creamy yet fragrant, it has flavours of vanilla, bright pear, apple, peach skin, melon, lemon and a touch of straw. Peppery finish. Alc 42%
Loredan Gasparini Capo di Stato Grappa
This white grappa is made from the marc left after the fermentation of the estate’s flagship red wine, Capo di Stato – a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. Distillation takes place in a small copper bain-marie still. Aromatic and floral, it displays scents of black tea, black and white pepper, grape and peach skin. Spicy, herbal and complex in the mouth, a subtle, sweet line of cherry runs through the centre, surrounded by touches of cherry stone, grape, flowers, white pepper and gentle sweet spices. Some pear emerges on the finish. Alc 48%
Lungarotti Rubesco Grappa
Lungarotti is one of Umbria’s leading producers, and Rubesco its best selling wine. Saline, seawater aromas are joined by touches of black pepper and lemon. Some floral notes and grape. Creamy attack with some very subtle red fruit sweetness along with grape, sweet spices and a touch of pear. Alc 45%
Lungarotti Riserva di Sagrantino di Montefalco Grappa
Made from the marc of the estate’s Montefalco Sagrantino, this Grappa spends 18 months in oak. Rich, caramelised wood and dried fruit aromas are followed in the mouth by an intense, aromatic wood character with sweet notes of red fruits, raisin, grape, pear and peach skin. Long. Alc 45%
Marolo Grappa di Barolo 12 Year Old
Distilled in 2007 in Alba, Piedmont, then aged for 12 years in small oak and acacia barrels, this grappa takes you on a journey: from woody, peppery and tobacco-infused scents to an intense, warm palate with subtle hedgerow fruits enveloped by rich, toasty, spicy oak and a streak of caramelised nuts. Fresh and well balanced with a rich tobacco finish, this is an ideal sipper. Alc 50%
Marolo Grappa di Gewurztraminer
Floral scented, with just a hint of subtle peach and typical Gewurztraminer rosewater character, this is fragrant in the mouth too. A touch of black tea is accompanied by summer flowers, citrus, grape, peach skin and some sweet spice. Alc 42%
Marzadro Diciotto Lune Stravecchia Grappa
Making Grappa since 1949, Marzadro has produced Diciotto Lune from the marcs of five Trentino varieties: Marzemino, Teroldego, Merlot, Moscato and Chardonnay. Distilled from a water bath into pot stills, it’s then aged in small barrels of Cherry, Ash, Oak and Robinia (‘Stravecchia’ is synonymous with the Riserva category, requiring a minimum of 18 months of barrel ageing), each imparting its own characteristics. Caramelised cashew nuts and dried citrus peel aromas are followed by a rich, super-smooth palate with a caramel edge and notes of grape and pear. Intense, warm and round, it finishes with some black pepper and sweet spice.
Located in the Maremma in Tuscany, Monteverro sends the marc from its Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc fermentations to the Nannoni distillery an hour up the road, which produces two grappas for the estate using artisanal discontinuous stills with small copper boilers. Fragrant pear and grape aromas are followed by intense, spicy flavours with juicy pear, a subtle creaminess and a long finish of melon and peach skin. Alc 42%
Monteverro Riserva 3 Anni Grappa
Gentle floral and grapey scents with overtones of wood polish and nuts lead to a smooth and round palate with peachy, woody touches and a touch of banana. Some spice on the smooth finish. Alc 42%
Nardini Extrafina Grappa
In 1779, Bortolo Nardini was the first person to establish a permanent grappa distillery, in a converted osteria in Bassano del Grappa in the Veneto. The company’s grappas are still held up as shining examples today, and this white grappa blows any modern misconceptions out of the water: its sweet and floral fragrance with subtle grape and pear notes leads to an intense palate with impressive clarity. Rich cream in the background is layered with soft pear, yellow fruits, melon and a touch of sweet spice. Smooth, round and moreish, this is a superb white grappa – the perfect aperitif? Alc 42%
Nardini Selection Riserva 7 Anni Grappa
This copper-coloured grappa has been aged for at least seven years in Slavonian oak barrels. It has a delicately woody scent with some spice. The palate, meanwhile, is intense, focused, fresh and clear, with a subtle creamy backbone overlaid with tobacco, spice, almond, melon, nut and cherry stone. An enticing savoury style. Alc 45%
Bortolo Nardini Selection Riserva 15 Anni Grappa
Aged for at least 15 years in Slavonian oak barrels, this is a complex Grappa full of cinnamon, nutmeg, dried fruits, cigar tobacco, spicy cedar wood, dusty books and dried orange peel. On the palate those sweet spices and dried orange peel combine with a fragrant waft of pot-pourri, followed by rich cigar tobacco and dusty, spicy wood. It’s beautifully balanced and smooth, although it has a spiky, refreshing edge to it. A gorgeous peach skin character emerges in the mouth long after the last drop has been drunk! Alc 45%
Poli Sarpa di Poli Grappa
The tag on the bottle describes the typical Venetian ‘rasentin’ – or rinsed coffee – where the finished espresso cup is rinsed with a splash of Grappa and enjoyed. This is a perfect Grappa for rasentin, as it’s fairly neutral in character. It has a floral, grapey nose and a focused palate that’s pretty straightforward, well balanced, smooth and enjoyable. Subtle pear and grape notes and just a tiny touch of cream on the finish. Alc 40%
Poli Po di Poli Morbida Grappa
This boutique distillery close to Bassano del Grappa in the Veneto has produced this Grappa made from 100% Moscato marc. Floral, slightly sweet scents of yellow fruits and pear are followed by a very fragrant and floral palate typical of Moscato. Open and inviting it has touches of yellow fruits alongside white flowers, grass and a touch of nuttiness on the finish. Alc 40%
Poli Barrique Solera di Famiglia 18-98 Grappa
The 18-98 Family Solera was founded at Poli Distillerie in 2001, using seven barrels of grappa kept aside each year until 2014. The youngest spirit has a minimum ageing of 18 months in barrique and there are 98 barriques in total, hence the name. Bottled in 2018, this release has scents of furniture polish, spicy cedar wood, coffee beans and orange peel, which are joined in the mouth by nutty notes laced with juicy orange, coffee, cigar tobacco, savoury spices and wood, with a slightly resinous note at the end. Orange veers into fudgy toffee on the very long finish. Alc 55%
Tedeschi Capitel Monte Olmi Grappa di Amarone
Made from the marc of Tedeschi’s single-vineyard Riserva Amarone, distilled in a discontinuous still and matured for two years in oak barriques. Aromas of sweet tobacco, black tea, forest fruits, spicy cedar and a touch of caramel are followed in the mouth by a sweet vein of red fruits enveloped by long, rich flavours of peach skin, toffee apple, vanilla, black pepper and sweet spices. Delicious! Alc 42%
Villa Sandi Prosecco Grappa
Villa Sandi is a leading producer of Prosecco. Seawater and grape notes are joined by creamy and floral touches. The round palate has citrus and cream flavours with some floral highlights, then a touch of apple and melon on the finish. Alc 40%