Grappa wasn’t at all on my mind when I went to the liquor store the other day. In fact, I was hardly aware of the existence of grappa, having only heard of it while watching Mario Batali cook on one of his various shows. He added some to whatever it was he was cooking, and explained its origins. According to chef Batali, grappa come from the cast off grapes that nobles threw out after making wine. The peasants would take these waste solids and referment them into a strong concoction they called grappa. Grappa now is still made from grape skins, and is then distilled into a clear spirit.
This Grappa del Piemonte comes in simple but distinct bottle. While most liquors that come in a 375mL bottle are short and squat, this one comes in a tall thin bottle that’s as tall as most other spirits. It has a label that appears simple at first look, a plain rectangular two tone sticker with a logo and a name. Upon further inspection though, there’s the image of what looks like still, and the cap is a hollow glass bubble like you’d see on an inexpensive decanter. So while I wasn’t looking for grappa, this bottle caught my eye in the store. Once I’d read “Grappa” on the label, I knew I’d be buying some, as I’de never tried any before.
Poggio Basso’s grappa had me worried when I first opened it; pulling out the synthetic cork it smelled like something decomposing. I poured some into a glass and the scent didn’t change. My first sip didn’t make anything better, it burned my lips quite a bit. That, however, wasn’t the grappa’s fault. After taking a moment, I realized I’d become dehydrated during the day, and my lip was chapped. The burning wasn’t from the drink per se, but because I had a small wound and I’d put alcohol in it. Ouch.
My next sip was quite a different experience. Even at 40% alcohol by volume, this Grappa del Piemonte is very smooth, it leaves only a pleasant tingle on the tongue. Its flavor is also complex; it tastes like raisins, grape seeds, and grape stems. It also has a creamy taste that takes me back to my childhood. My mother used to sometimes give me these little whitish fruit flavored lozenges. They were semi-hard, but as they warmed up they would soften and become chewy, with a creamy texture to match their taste and color. One of strongest aspects of this drink’s flavor is just like those candies, and drinking it takes me right back to the feeling I had being a small child eating those sweet things.
I wouldn’t say that this liquor has an especially strong taste, it’s certainly not overpowering on its own, though it is definitely dominant. Every once in a while I’ll mix it with something else, it it almost always becomes the main flavor. Even Jägermeister, mixed with more Jäger than grappa, didn’t stand a chance when put up against this seemingly unassuming Italian brandy.
While mixing it I found that I usually prefer it on its own, but one exception is drinking it chilled with Master of Mixes cherry grenadine. It goes fantastically well with the fruit flavors in that grenadine, and takes to the sweetness well too. If you do chill it, you’ll find that it’s quite easy to float a layer of grappa on top of the grenadine. The rich red syrup with a crisp line separating it from the crystal clear grappa makes for quite an attractive layered shot.
The dry, fruity creamy flavor of this grappa goes quite well with sweet and fruity things or on its own, but after having had it for a while, now I’m curious what it would taste like if I cooked with it. I imagine it would go well with the tang of tomatoes, I think I may try adding it to some tomato sauce, or even better, put some into some home made salsa. Yum!