Grappa history and fun-facts
Grappa is a grape marc spirit made exclusively from grapes which are produced, vinified and distilled in Italy.
Its name is very likely to derive from the term “graspa”, with which grappa is referred to in Veneto and in some areas of the nearby regions where Venetian dialect is also spoken. “Graspa” derives from “graspo” which, in Venetian dialect, means “vine branch”.
There is no connection with mount Grappa, neither with Bassano del Grappa, although there it is possible to find some of the most famous distilleries of the region.
The percentage of alcohol by volume may vary between 37,5% and 60%. This percentage can be achieved naturally, in the case of “full strength” grappa, or by adding water, usually demineralized, in the right percentage and proportion with the distilled product.
Grappa is made with the distillation of grape marc, usually obtained from red wine pressing. In this case, the marc has already fermented, so it is ready to be distilled. There are other types of grape marc from which it is possible to obtain grappa: semi-fermented marc, produced during rosé wine vinification; the same result can be obtained with sweet wine marc or with virgin marc, which is produced through the “draining” process during white wine vinification. In this case, the marc has not undergone any meaningful fermentation process. Both semi-fermented and virgin marc must ferment before distillation starts, as grappa is solely obtained from fully fermented marc.
Grappa, which is a spirit made from distilled grape marc, should not be confused with “acquavite d’uva”, which is made by distilling grape must. Nor is grappa a distilled wine (like brandy). Therefore, distilled grape marc, distilled grape must and distilled wine produce three different alcoholic beverages.
It is commonly believed that grape marc distillation started in Veneto between 1200 and 1300 AD, when Venice was an important market for brandy and grape marc spirit, called grappa, which were exported to Germany and to the East, as remedies against the plague and gout. The initial use of grappa was essentially therapeutic: it was used in the case of suffocation and intoxication, rubbed in cases of frostbite, and administered together with some oral drugs in order to enhance their effects; therefore, only apothecaries and doctors were allowed to produce grappa.
In 1876, by the “Royal School of Viticulture and Enology” in Conegliano, Professor Emilio Comboni contributed to the improvement of this distilled spirit (Comboni refined and made known the direct flame still, which has now become the symbol of “Venetian Grappa”). After WWII grappa developed greatly both in substance and in image, breaking finally free from its “rural” legacy. This way, it became possible to improve its quality, focusing on its lightness, which led to the success of grappa in nearby and faraway markets.
The term “grappa” is commonly used to refer to an alcoholic beverage obtained from the distillation of grape marc, rich in aroma and flavours. It is released for consumption with an alcoholic strength of at least 40°, and the terms “riserva” or “stravecchia” can be added to the name, if it has been refined for at least 18 months.
The apparatus used to produce “handmade” grappa is the still, which is a sort of boiler where the marc to be distilled is placed: the vapours produced by heating are collected and brought to the liquid state, in a condensation vessel. This procedure, apparently simple, requires great skills both during distillation and rectification, which is the most important part of the process, when the “head” (saturated with methanol) and the “tail” of the distillate are discarded, and the “heart” is selected.
Grappa is a distilled spirit perfectly suited at the end of a meal, but it is also used as an ingredient of confectionery products.
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