Grappa is a fragrant grape-based pomace brandy of between 30% and 80% alcohol by volume (60 to 160 proof), of Italian origin. Literally "grape stalk", grappa is made by distilling pomace, grape residue (mainly the skins, but also stems and seeds) left over from winemaking after pressing. It was originally made to prevent waste by using leftovers at the end of the wine season. It quickly became comnmercialized, mass-produced, and sold worldwide. The flavor of grappa, like that of wine, depends on the type and quality of the grape used as well the specifics of the distillation process.
In Italy, grappa is primarily served as a "digestivo" or after-drink. It's main purpose was to aid in the digestion of heavy meals. Grappa may also be added to espresso coffee to create a caffé corretto meaning corrected coffee. Another variation of this is the "ammazza caffé" (literally, "coffee-killer"): the espresso is drunk first, followed by a few ounces of grappa served in its own glass. In the Veneto, there is a rasentin: after finishing a cup of espresso with sugar, a few drops of grappa are poured into the nearly empty cup and swirled, and drunk down in one sip.
Amont the most well-known producers of grappas are Nonino, Berta, Sibona, Nardini, Jacopo Poli, Domenis and Bepi Tosolini. While these grappas are produced in significant quantities and exported, there are many thousands of smaller local and regional grappas, all with distinct character.
Most grappa is clear, indicating that it is an un-aged distillate, though some may retain very faint pigments from their original fruit pomace. Lately, aged grapps have become more common, and these take on a yellow or red-brown hue from the barrels in which they are stored.
The method which is thoroughly tried and tested by professional tasters, who distinguish the following four categories of grappa:
- Young grappas
- Cask-conditioned grappas
- Aromatic grappas
- Aromatized grappas
Grappa tastings invariably begin with "young grappas" and then continue with cask-conditioned and aromatic grappas before with aromatized grappas.
When the tasting involves more than one grappa from the same category, the examination begins with the grappa that has the lowest alcohol content and concludes with the product richest in alcohol. in the case of the two grappas with the same alcohol content, the tasting begins with the smoother and less markedly flavored product, which the organizer of the tasting will have selected beforehand.
After each tasting and before sampling another glass, it is recommended that tasters drink half a glass of fresh, pasteurized milk, swilling the liquid around the mouth thoroughly, in order to refresh the taste receptors on the tongue.