From time to time, we love to step out of our comfort zone whisky provides for us, and look closer at another distilled product the world has to offer. Last Christmas we were challenged to go a little deeper into bourbon and cognac, we recently discovered a new Dutch moonshine and we are no strangers to gin any longer, although most of those bottles tend to be leaky and empty themselves really quick. No idea how that happens…
Anyway, without diverting too much from whisky into a different spirit, on this dreach Tuesday evening last week in March, we renewed acquaintance with a drink we know from relatives bringin it back from their camping trip, or as a freebee at the Italian restaurant; Grappa. A clear liquid, chilled if you are lucky, rough and something you drink when you need to get drunk fast. Like vodka, made from grapes, right..?
Dutch importer, distributor and liquor shop van Wees in Amersfoort arranged a tasting – like they often do. This time, we were treated to a Grappa tasting, from distillerie Villa de Varda, located on the slopes of the Dolomites in the Trentino area in the north of Italy, presented by fifth generation Michele Dolzan, of the same family that started the distillery back in the early 19th century.
Enthusiastic and talkative Michele introduces us to what exactly grappa is. Like in the country we have come to know and love so much by now (looking at you, Scotland), the Italians also do not like to waste produce, and found out a way to use the pulp and skins left over from the pressing the grapes used in winemaking. The pomace, as they like to call the collective ‘leftovers’, is gathered immediately after this pressing (because the fresher the pomace, the better the distillate), undone from the last remaining pits and stems by a smart process and trickle distilled in a combination of copper pots, pipes and columns into a clear and fragrant distillate.
At the tasting in Amersfoort, our senses first got whetted by the unaged Grappa Traminer, distilled from the Traminer grapes from the Valle di Cembra area, which were the ingredients of the family’s Campo Maseri winehouse white Traminer Aromatico. A beautiful pair of drinks, which, not entirely surprising, fit together like a glove. A quick note on both drinks:
Fruity with notes of peaches, vanilla, rose petals, sweet berries, raisins and some nuts. An easy to drink grappa with a short fruity finish
Soft and fruity grappa, notes of apple, banana, pear, vanilla, peach and orange. Slight hint of nuts and a green hay note in the back
Second in line was another pair. From the Teroldego grapes in the Piana Rotaliana area, they created their clear Teroldego Grappa, made from the pomace of Campo Maseri’s creamy and dark-red Teroldego Rotaliano.
Dry, fruity and musty (in a good way) with flavours of grapes, raisins, peaches, apples and pineapple, ending in a creamy, smooth and fruity medium length finish
A more bodied grappa than the first one tasted with almost cherry and red berries combining in a meaty note mixed with lots of vanilla, spices, ginger, raisins and many dried fruit notes
That’s a whole different ballgame! Two beautiful wines and eye-opening grappas, completely changing our opinion of what we thought grappa to be. Afraid of what would come next would disappoint us, we listened to the passionate Michele while he continued his presentation and proudly poured a glass of his next unaged grappa; their Grappa Pinot Grigio, produce of the (surprise, surprise!!) Pinot Gris grape variety, harvested from the sunny Trentino vineyards. No wine to match this time, but that’s maybe for the better if we wanted to get down the steep stairs down from the tasting room in one piece after the tasting later.
Fruity and spicy, notes of autumn, hay and wet leaves together with peaches, pears, blackberries and raisins. The medium length finish carries some slightly dry notes
A fruity, almost sparkly, light and fresh grappa. Little hint of earthy notes between the stone fruits, liquorice and fresh fruits. A smooth and velvet feeling on the finish
Mamma Mia, this keeps getting better and better and we are not even done yet. Unlike tradition, two generations ago the family started to experiment with ageing of their distillates. What we encounter in our next glass is the same grappa as we were served with the second wine – the Grappa Teroldego, matured for a modest period of three years in virgin French Barriques, resulting in the Grappa Teroldego Riserva Invecchiata (don’t you just love the melodious Italian language?).
Clean, creamy and fruity, with notes of overripe and dried fruit, cookie dough, gooseberries, nutty, mushrooms, sawdust, vanilla, hay and grapes
Soft notes of raspberry and strawberries mixed with allspice, wood, soft sweetness of peach, marzipan and some liquorice. Almost makes me think of rum like notes…
This really keeps improving. And what’s more, the very next in line is the Grappa Teroldego Stravecchia, once more with the Grappa Teroldego at its base, but now aged for five years, quite the age for a grappa matured in virgin oak.
Sweet notes of fudge, butterscotch, fruit, marzipan, nougat, raisins and grapes. A touch of mixed nuts, predominantly almonds and sawdust, leaning towards the creamy, fruity and hefty loral profile not unlike Cognac
Apple sauce, fudge, citrus, baking spices, ginger, nuts, chamomile, raspberries, strawberries, elderflower and liquorice I can find in this Grappa, giving a sweet and floral expression with a hint of citrus freshness
Concluding the tasting we were treated to a Liquore Limoncino, and a sip of whatever we would like from the wide range of wines, liquors or grappas in the Villa de Varda lineup. The number of grappas in tonight’s lineup was only a handful of the grappas from this distillery. If you realize they are only one of 60 distilleries in the small area alone, and over 170 in Italy, you can imagine the enormous variation of grappas available. Some of those are given away for free at the local pizzeria, others, like these from Villa de Varda, are sold for very reasonable prices at your favourite liquor store.
If you are curious if the already very impressive grappas have a sibling that is the Stradivarius of all of the company’s grappas, make sure you read our notes on our WhiskyWorship & LovingWhisky tasting note blogs, and find the the Grappa Vecchia Riserva Vibrazione, matured in red fir wood, normally reserved for the fabrication of the best violins in the world. A small sample decided to travel home with us, to perform a beautiful solo for each of us. Many thanks to van Wees and Michele Dolzan for the best introduction to the world of grappa and making us want to visit Italy and explore yet another interesting world.
Thomas & Ansgar
Copyright notice: Photos glasses on table and line up bottles by WhiskySpeller. Other photos provided by Villa de Varda