Grappa Week – Day 7: Nardini Grappa Riserva (50%, 70 cl, L.08/07)

Grappa Week LogoAlready the last day of the Master Quill Grappa Week, and we’ll close this off with a Grappa of one of the oldest and most important Grappa Distilleries around today. Nardini has a market share of 25% and produces 4 million bottles per annum.

The Nardini distillery was founded by Bartolo Nardini in 1779. Bartolo bought an inn (Osteria al Ponte) near the Bassano bridge a.k.a Ponte Vecchio, across the Brenta river. This inn became the Grapperia Nardini and still exists today. Nardini is still run by members of the Nardini family, by now the seventh generation. Today Nardini has two distilleries: one in Bassano del Grappa and one in Monastier where besides Grappa also Liqueurs and Amaros are made.

This Nardini grappa has been distilled two times in a traditional, a discontinous and a vacuum steam still, across both distilleries. The Grappa from both distilleries are then blended and aged for at least three years (according to the Italian site) or five years (according to the UK site), in Slavonian oak barrels. The grape pomace is taken only from the foothills of north-eastern Veneto and Friuli.

Nardini Grappa RiservaColor: White wine

Nose: Old dried grass. Apple skin and cold, lightly sweet apple compote (as opposed to an acidic one). Very restrained. Brooding, you sense a lot underneath. Vanilla and oak, licorice and juniper. Unlit cigar, excellent Havana Tobacco. Warm the glass up in your hand, very important for this liquid. The smell is natural, lightly fruity, perfumy and the usage of wood is apparent. Lots of Grappa’s are “enhanced” with sugar, but this one hasn’t got the sweet nose like many others. Extremely lovely stuff, this Grappa.

Taste: Cigar box and tobacco. Lightly sweet, but all in good balance. The sweetness, that is mostly apparent when entering the mouth, is balanced with tannins from the wood (can’t imagine it coming from the grapes). Pine and cedar. The higher ABV of 50% really delivers the aroma’s of this Grappa perfectly. Underneath the cigar (box) and the Tobacco lies a great fruitiness. Fresh green apple.

From a Whisky drinkers perspective a very nice Grappa. Balanced, dry, noticeable wood influence without the predominant hay and grass notes. What a stunning nose. It gives off layers and layers of niceties. Easily the best Grappa I’ve tasted. Great product. I’m impressed by the nose, I just hope all batches are at least as good as this one, (L.08/07). This is a must!

With this Nardini we conclude our (ad)venture in the world of Grappa. Grappa had, and maybe still has a troublesome reputation. Lots of people consider it to be a not-so-nice and harsh distillate. I guess the lesser gods of Grappa making are trying to do something about that by adding lots and lots of sugar to their products as could be seen with the first few reviews from this week. I for one do not like that. Luckily also good and very good Grappa is made, although outside of Italy we only know the big brands, but insiders from Italy know there are lots and lots of artisanal Grappa producers who make very good Grappa’s, so maybe it is time to plan a holiday to Italy. Still there are a few very good Grappa’s around that are widely known, like this Nardini. Not breaking the bank and making a very good Grappa. Salute!

Points: 88


Grappa Week – Day 6: Sibona La Grappa Di Barbera (42%, 50 cl, 2011)

Grappa Week LogoToday we’ll have a Grappa made by Sibona. Looking at the picture below you might think it doesn’t look like much, but holding the adorable half litre bottle in your hand, makes you want to have a whole row of bottles like this, with Grappa’s made from every single grape variety that grows in the Piedmont region of Italy. The bottle itself has markings, warning you when another 10 cl has gone, and has a little extension preventing you from dripping the precious liquid, so not a drop gets lost. For this “Linea Graduata”, the label looks like someone typed it in his shed. Looks fantastic though. Even without tasting, I would like to have them all!

Barbera is a red grape variety that has grown very common to Italy. It is the most planted grape variety just after Sangiovese and Montepulciano. Sibona hails from the Piedmont region, and over there, Barbera is the most used grape variety. Both Sangiovese and Montepulciano are not (really) planted in the Piedmont at all.

Sibona La Grappa Di BarberaColor: Light citrus yellow, straw.

Nose: Lots of hay, warm, basking in the sun. In the distance crickets are chirping and you are living the live of a God with an Italian beauty by your side. At least you are enjoying yourself very much. Hay, dry grass, dust, cereal, honey and some deep fruity notes and some nice citrussy notes as well. With some time, creamy notes develop with hints of vanilla coming from the oak ageing. Black tea, with a flowery note to it as well as some black fruits. Dry and very well-balanced. Hints of rural organics. Maybe not at first, but this has become a dream to nose.

Taste: The hay and dry grass return big time in the taste as well as some virgin oak. A sappy and tannic bitterness with grape skin aroma. It would be funny now, to say this isn’t sweet enough, but yes, it is on the dry side, which won’t make it your daily drinker, nor will it be a Grappa for everyone (starting to drink Grappa). Nevertheless, I’m glad this hasn’t been ruined by sugar. Having said that, apart from the honey, there is some hidden sweetness to this Grappa, and it is sugary in quality, not saying that this is sweet at all. So slightly sweetened black tea it is. The more it breathes the more black (and red) fruits emerge. very appetizing. A connoisseurs aperitif I would say. It’s far to elegant or subtle to function as a digestif even though Grappa is really a digestif, and this particular example is quite powerful. With extended breathing the naturally occurring sweetness becomes more and more noticeable.

I remember when I opened the bottle I didn’t like it very much, because all of the hay and it seemed not to be pleasant to smell as well. But even then, I had the feeling I would grow into it. At this point in time I really don’t know for sure which of us has changed, me or the Grappa, which got some air into the bottle to breathe and develop. This is a high quality Grappa showing off a single grape variety from the Piedmont. Not an easy Grappa, and something to savour once in a while. But when you need it, it’s great. The role the wood played is easily discernible. The Barbera has been aided by some ageing in oak, in fact, this is the darkest of all the Grappa’s from the “Linea Graduata”.

Points: 81

Grappa Week – Day 5: Marolo Moscato (42%, 70 cl, 2005)

Grappa Week LogoAfter the Villa Isa Moscato which showed us what a Moscato Grappa is, I still feel it can be done better. The Villa Isa is a very accessible Grappa made from Moscato grapes. It’s friendly, fruity and easily drinkable. Today’s Marolo is a Grappa company with quite a reputation, so lets see if this Marolo can beat the Villa Isa (as if it were a competition).

Marolo is all about Paolo Marolo and his successor, and son, Lorenzo. Paulo started in 1977 because he wanted to turn the rustic product into art! Anybody still wondering if Paolo is Italian?

Grappa Moscato MaroloColor: Colorless.

Nose: Hay and dry grass. But not so heavy and over the top. Soft. Small hints of fresh-cut grass or the smell you get when pruning a tree. More sappy and “wet”. From the start some more nice fruit, in part citrussy. Lemon (not lime). This is a more toned down version and cleaner, since this wasn’t aged in oak. Slow and laid back. No hurry, we’ll get there. Besides some spiciness, there is a vegetal and powdery note as well, which seems a very watered down mixture of lavas, licorice and toffee. When I nose it with some more vigour, the Moscato grape variety pops out in a dry and dusty way.

Taste: Fruity and sugary. Sugar water. Not thick, syrupy, fruity and heavy on the Moscato as I expected. In fact this matches the nose better. It is again laid back in style, soft and toned down. Very young, clean and clear, just like the look of the Grappa. In the background there is a more heavy note, something like diluted burnt caramel. Mixing with the heavy note, is a short stint of fruity acidity quickly overtaken by spice (white pepper, thyme and maybe some others). Lovely fruity finish and the more time passes after swallowing the better the finish gets, (it gets more spicier). Of course, when you wait too long, its gone. Making it the right moment for another sip.

A very quiet and elegant Moscato. It has its sweetness and in part it even is sugary. But this time, it’s all right. Easily drinkable and it seems to be the right distillate for some good introspection. I like the Marolo better than the Villa Isa, but they are also quite different from each other. One a bit loud and fruity, the other more introvert. One with ageing in wood the other young and clean. Even though the Marolo is also quite accessible, it still is a Grappa you have to get to know, to get the most out of it.

Points: 83

Grappa Week – Day 4: Villa Isa Grappa Moscato (42%, Roberto Dellavalle, 700 ml)

Grappa Week LogoNext up another Grappa by Roberto Dellavalle, but this one is from his Villa Isa range of Grappa’s. The range consists of single-vine varieties from the Piedmont, obtained through the distillation of fresh Marcs. This Moscato is an oak aged version but there is also a clear version that wasn’t aged in oak. Barbera and Nebbiolo da Barolo also exist in an 18 month oak aged version within the Villa Isa range.

Villa Isa Grappa MoscatoMoscato is a sweet grape with a very recognizable aroma, both in smell and taste. It is one of the oldest and widely planted white grape varieties in Italy. A well-known Wine made with this grape variety for instance is Moscato d’Asti. Lots of variants of this grape are planted all over the world. Unlike many grape varieties used for Wines, the Moscato grape variety is very nice to eat too.

Color: Light gold

Nose: Toned down hay note, fatty grass and candy and Moscato sweetness and above all, Moscato aroma’s abundant. Old wooden storage house. Very likeable. Nice elegant and fruity nose with typical muscat grapes and peach. Very likeable indeed. Small hints of lavas, flowers and a tiny backbone of oak.

Taste: Fruity sweet with toffee, but also a little winey. Muscat or Gewürztraminer. Definitely not sweetened with heaps of sugar, although a little bit has probably been added. Here the Grappa is aided with a grape variety that by itself is sweet and this kind of sweetness comes across as more integrated and less sugary sweet which overpowers everything. Not very deep or complex, but very nice and easily drinkable.

If you want to introduce people to Grappa, don’t choose a Grappa that has been extra sweetened with (heaps) of sugar, although I do understand that information is hard to come by. Let them try a Grappa di Moscato. The first two Grappa’s I reviewed earlier in this Grappa Week were lesser known brands, and hardly any information can be found on the internet at all. Maybe only on Italian websites? Roberto Dellavalle though, is no stranger to the internet.

Points: 73

Grappa Week – Day 3: Terre Antiche Grappa Amarone Riserva (42%, Roberto Dellavalle, 70 cl)

Grappa Week LogoWell this is a first. Starting a Master Quill week and really disliking the first two entries. I was hoping to show you that Grappa is a lot better now than it used to be, and the bad reputation is now false and far behind us. Where is this going? Since Amarone is such a stellar Wine, why not return to a, hopefully better, Amarone Grappa. Third time Lucky? By the way the picture is from Terre Antiche’s Grappa Moscato, but the reviewed Grappa Amarone looks pretty similar.

Terre Antiche Grappa AmaroneColor: Light sparkling gold.

Nose: Hay and dry grass. Like a good grappa should be. Warm haystack and oozes of summer. Wet cold tea leaves. Next the fruit. Hints of cherries and warm cherry compote. (not the sharp acidic smell, no, the soft and sweet part of the cherry smell). Citrus fruits, but like the cherries, not very acidic, but more the sweet and aromatic side of citrus fruits. Orange and tangerine. Nice balance and I like the overall smell. Compared to some other Grappa’s the smell gets more and more accessible. Hints of spicy wood. Lovely.

Taste: Yes it’s very sweet again! The taste matches the nose. Hay, grass, leafy and cherries are all over this Grappa as well, but not as much as the sugar is! It has a sugary sweetness you might remember from dissolving too many sugar cubes in your tea (when you were a kid). When the sugar film leaves your mouth, not a lot is left behind underneath the sweetness. Again a sort of Grappa Liqueur to make it more accessible and have a larger appeal to a wider public. Lots of the finer elements of the original Grappa are lost because it is drowned by sugar.

Easy to drink, but yet again lots of sugar. As a Liqueur it’s not even that bad this time. Better than the two previous Grappa’s in this Grappa Week, so we’re moving up. Although quaffable, I wouldn’t buy something like this. I’m very interested in Grappa and would like to have some top-notch stuff on my lectern. I do like the smell of this Amarone Grappa though, although nothing reminds me of Amarone at all. This sweet style is not something I’m looking for personally, and the amounts of added sugar is something, I guess, that is done to hide a lack in quality or make the product more interesting for lovers of Liqueurs. I think in this case, the latter is true, since this Grappa has a wonderful nose, so the quality is certainly there. Three rather inexpensive, and sweet Grappa’s down, four more to go…

Points: 69

Grappa Week – Day 2: Duca di Vigliano Grappa di Prosecco Riserva (42%, Roberto Dellavalle, 50 cl)

Grappa Week LogoYesterday was a bit of a false start for me. I didn’t really like the Paesanella Amarone. It probably had nothing to do with the Grappa itself, but it seemed to have an enormous amount of added sugar that put me off. Today we’ll have a look at this Grappa di Prosecco. Prosecco is a totally different wine from yesterday’s Amarone, so I’m expecting something completely different.

Prosecco is a sparkling dry White Wine, mostly made from the Glera grape variety that used to be called Prosecco. It is made in the Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia regions. Amarone is a still Red Wine mostly made from the Corvina grape variety in the Valpolicella region.

Duca di Vigliano Grappa di Prosecco ReservaColor: Almost colorless, with a slight green haze.

Nose: Obviously some hay and dry grassy notes. Sugary sweet (oh no!) and also floral. I would almost would call this cute. Good balance. The alcohol is only noticeable when spinning the glass a bit. If you let it breathe for a while the nose becomes more fruity. Tiny hints of lavas and licorice. With breathing the Grappa becomes more dry and dusty too. With even more air the alcoholic note becomes spicy. Nice, just fear for the sugary note in the nose though.

Taste: Sweetness first. Just like the Paesanella Grappa Amarone Barrique this is pretty sweet, so my guess is that sugar was added for a more “accessible” taste profile. It’s sugary sweet and not fruity sweet. Again the sugar is able to mask a lot of aroma in the taste, or I can’t get past the sugar. The sweetness ruins the finish and leaves a bad aftertaste in my mouth. Yep a potentially reasonable Grappa ruined by sugar. Too much sugar and with that sugar a bad finish…

Dear Grappa producers, please market this as a Grappa liqueur. In my opinion taking the sugar route is a bad way to get around the Grappa crappa feeling of the past where Grappa was considered a hot and inferior distillate. Don’t make Grappa friendlier by adding heaps of sugar, because you’ll be ruining the reputation of the distillate yet again! Just use fresh pomace and make the best Grappa you can!

Points: 59

Grappa Week – Day 1: Paesanella Grappa Amarone Barrique (41%, 50 cl)

Grappa Week LogoNothing nicer than writing about things you’re passionate about, so that’s why you’ll find mostly reviews about Single Malt Whiskies on these pages. Once in a while it is also nice to be able to broaden ones horizon and dive deep into another distilled world. Nothing better than a Master Quill Week to check something out intensively.

This time we’ll have a look at Italy’s famous, or should I say, notorious distillate: Grappa. For a long time Grappa had quite a reputation, and still today. When you talk to people about distillates, Grappa is thought of as a not-so-nice distillate. However, Grappa is starting to become noticed and sometimes even fashionable. Primary reason for this is the move towards high quality. I picked seven Grappa’s randomly, and all are Grappa’s I’ve never tasted before. The first Grappa we will try is a barrel aged Amarone Grappa by Grappa Paesanella. Not a lot of information is available about this brand, so we’ll have to dive in rather blind into this Grappa. What is Grappa actually?

Grappa is a grape pomace brandy from Italy, San Marino or the Italian speaking part of Switzerland. Pomace are the left overs you get after pressing, when making wine: stems, skins, pulp and seeds of the grape. f.i. an Eau de Vie from grapes is made from the must, the freshly pressed grape juice, so it includes the juice. Grappa is made from the solid left overs and water is not allowed in its production. So steam distillation or au-bain-marie is the way to go when making Grappa.

Paesanella Grappa Amarone BarriqueColor: Light copper gold, with a slight pink hue

Nose: Sweet and winey. Very fruity. Extremely grassy. Hay. Creamy and slightly oaky. Grape seed. I’m not a connoisseur of Grappa’s yet  (I’d like to be), but having smelled quite a few Grappa’s before I have to say this has a typical grappa smell for me, and the finer points lie within the details that can be picked up besides the obvious. Although creamy (ice-cream), I do not pick up any vanilla, so I’m guessing French or Slovenian oak barriques were used. Probably a few from new oak, although not much if any. Full aroma. Nice developement in the glass with air. Keeps changing and changing in a subtle way. Grappa is interesting stuff.

Taste: Sugary sweet, almost like a Rum. Of all the Grappa’s I’ve tasted I never tasted something as sweet as this. I hardly would call this a Grappa, but more a Grappa based liqueur. I think I understand the (heavy) usage of sugar, it probably masks something, and makes the Grappa itself more accessible. Grappa can be hefty stuff you know. Understand, si, like it, no. It really tastes like a (dry) Grappa with a lot of sugar dissolved into it, like someone did this at home. Pity. It’s so sugary it’s almost difficult to try to detect something else here. Its like Grappa trying to be a 7yo Abuelo Rum. Slightly bitter and warming finish. This would also do nicely as a Jägertee.

I really dislike the added sugar flavour of this. The sweetness alone sets off my alarm and ruins this grappa for me. As a Liqueur, not really, as a Grappa: well, I can’t recommend it. I hope tomorrows expression will be better.

Points: 53