While many people equate Grappa with rocket-fuel, some of
it is actually pretty nice. There are, certainly, some rather "industrial"
grappas which seem to bring on a headache just by the very act of sniffing.
A few producers make packaging a special feature of their grappa and you'll find very
delicate and amazingly expensive bottles holding these precious distillations. A key
element in the character of the grappa is the particular grape variety which has been
distilled. Further, the amount of liquid left in the grape skins is another factor
in determining quality. Winemakers who have squeezed the living daylights out of
their fruit, tend to have a raw material which will result in a rather rude and crude
grappa. On the other hand, those who leave a bit of liquid in the "press
cake" provide the distiller with the possibility of making a finer and more delicate
or gentle spirit.
Nonino was the first to really bring great attention to grappa as a more
"civilized" digestivo as they make a very fine product. The fact
that they package them handsomely has certainly been a key to their success.
Nonino takes the press cakes from some of Friuli's best winemakers as the source of his
distilling materials. The region makes truly outstanding, delicate white wines, as
well as complex reds, so it stands to reason Nonino can make (and does) the best of
But the neighbors don't supply all the pomace needed for Nonino's
production. So they have invested in extensive acreage of their own to
assure they have sufficient quantities of raw material for making their
The distillery is impressive...
Elisabetta Nonino shows off the distillery.
They bottle their deluxe offerings in glass bottles from the famous Murano
glass works near Venice.
NONINO Muller-Thurgau SALE 59.99 375ml
NONINO Grappa di Moscato SALE $59.99 750ml
NONINO Grappa di CHARDONNAY $46.99 375ml
NONINO Grappa di Merlot
NONINO GRAPPA di FRAGOLINO List $110 SALE $94.99
Giovanni Capovilla is a bit of a distilling legend in Italy these
days. He became an overnight success at the age of 60-something
after changing careers and becoming a grappa-meister.
He's been at it since the 1970s on a hobbyist basis, before
finally deciding to "go pro" in 1986.
He had spent time selling winemaking equipment and realized that Italy's
distilleries, for the most part, were industrial-sized companies which were
not interested in seeking the highest quality products. They were
looking to produce "recreational alcohol" and so he began dabbling
When we first had a chance to taste the Capovilla spirits, we were
immediately transported back to the late 1980s and early 1990s when we had
been periodically visiting an artisan distiller in Alsace named Jean-Paul
Mette. He was a very smart guy with a wealth of
experience. And his spirits were exceptional.
The Capovilla alcohols we tasted had a similar level of
"finesse" and we mean "fine-ness." Wow they are good!
Visiting our friends Gaby and Norbert near Frankfurt, we noticed a bottle of
Capovilla on the table of opened spirits bottles. Norbert had discovered
this guy and was a big fan (as you can see).
While driving around with famous winemaker/distiller Mario Pojer
(Pojer e Sandri...they make some terrific wines and grappa/fruit distillates), I
asked if he was familiar with Capovilla.
No surprise...Mario knows practically everybody.
"Yes. He's the best. He makes great grappa and other
spirits. I wish we had the resources to pay attention to all the
details. That's what makes his products so good. Attention to
Capovilla has a couple of "secrets." One is he
is a stickler for the quality of the products he distills and he goes to great
lengths to find the best raw materials.
For making grappa he obtains the press "cakes" from top winemakers and
looks for low sulfur levels as this makes the aromatics much more intense and
Another secret is the relatively low temperatures he employs
when distilling. "This takes longer, yes," he explains,
"but the spirit is much higher in quality."
Years ago when visiting Mette in Alsace we learned that he found
much better quality when his distillates were aged in tank (little stainless
steel containers, actually) for a few years. Capovilla does the same...we
saw cellars full of interesting spirits, all maturing in little containers until
the master deems them ready for bottling.
Some spirits are given a bit of time in barrel to develop their
Poking around the cellar you'll find some interesting names on
batches of grappa.
Tasting Capovilla's spirits...handmade products and "handmade"
There's a considerable amount of handiwork to produce the
products, but also to package them.
Each bottle has a "seal" and hand-written 'label.'
Yes...each bottle is handled individually and this is an amazing amount of
We currently have Capovilla's Grappa di Moscato, Grappa di Barolo and his Amarone Grappa.
The Moscato is beautifully aromatic and dry.
Oh yes...dry...you know grappa producers can make their products with a bit of
sweetness to give them a round, balanced quality.
Not Capovilla. Dry. Pure.
The Barolo grappa is less aromatically fruity and a bit more assertive on the
The Amarone grappa is also fairly assertive...it comes from Romano dal Forno,
the famous Valpolicella vintner.
He's very proud of his Capovilla Rhum.
The old boy taught someone how to distill in the Caribbean...in
Guadeloupe. There they make a Rhum Rhum.
We carry the higher proof bottling (pictured to the left)...
It's a Rhum Agricole, by the way.
Jacopo Poli is a
medium-sized firm in Schiavon, a small town in the
One of Italy's top producers is nearby, the winery of Fausto Maculan.
Poli has access to some of Maculan's press cakes, these being of some wonderful and
exotic varieties such as Vespaiolo, Verduzzo, and Tocai amongst the whites and Merlot and
Cabernet for reds.
Poli was also tabbed by the Tuscan estate of Tenuta San Guido to distill grappa
from the press cakes from their Sassicaia production.
Poli doesn't market that grappa though...but we do usually have it in stock.
Poli now bottles grappa in some amazingly fancy glass, too.
JACOPO POLI Amoroso di Vespaiolo SALE $79.99 375ml
JACOPO POLI Sarpa di Poli (Cabernet & Merlot) $59.99 750ml
UvaViva (Moscato & Malvasia) $66.99 750ml
JACOPO POLI LAMPONI (Raspberry) $84.99
DISTILLERIA VIEUX MOULIN / ELENA
is a small distiller in Piemonte, situated north of the Barolo and Barbaresco
areas and south of Asti.
The firm is family owned and operated and they have a dozen small stills.
A modest range of grappe is produced.
We tasted a couple of them and liked their Arneis grappa. This is a white
grape and the resulting spirit has good character without being particularly
harsh or coarse.
In Stock: ELENA BORRA Grappa di Arneis (List $33) SALE $29.99
POJER & SANDRI
A bit less famous here in the U.S., but certainly very highly regarded in Italy, are the
grappas and aquavite of Pojer & Sandri in Trentino. They make some
wonderful fruit aquavite as well and are uniformly fine. Pojer & Sandri's
distillations have a remarkable finesse to them. As they are also winemakers, of
course they have an excellent sense about leaving the press cake or pomace in excellent
condition from which they'll be able to create a fine distillation. They also
distill a variety of fruits and these are uniformly outstanding. Pojer &
Sandri have a fabulous collection of distilled products from the best producers around the
world and are able to compare their work to other artisans. Theirs stack up
POJER & SANDRI Not currently imported
A cult figure in the world of grappa is
the late Romano Levi, a small distiller in Neive
in Piemonte. We've visited a few times and have tasted some very good grappa, Levi
dropping a thimble on a thread into a barrel of grappa to withdraw a sample for his
However, Signor Levi was very secretive about his work and when the
discussion turns towards production specifics, he is very quick to escort visitors outside
to look at his goldfish pond or show them something else. His products are not
available in the U.S. and they're rather rare in Italy, too.
Your best bet was to pay a visit to the distillery. If you can find your way to Bruno
Giacosa's place in Neive, you'd be within sniffing distance of Levi's place. It's on
the corner across the street.
Levi would come to the gate and he'd size up the prospect ringing the
bell. If he liked the looks of you, he'd open the door. If he
figured you were a pain in the ass or didn't look like someone with whom he
wanted to deal with, he'd say they were closed.
If he'd allow you to buy a bottle, Romano would enter his office and sit down at
the drawing board. He'd design a label specifically for your bottle and
he'd carefully glue the label onto your bottle.
Restaurants around the Langhe region (and beyond) would display, with pride,
bottles of Levi grappa.
Romano had a very cute, charming character in his bag of
artistry...La Donna Selvatica, the Wild Woman. She appears on many of his
labels...and you'll find her likeness on a wall in the town of Neive.
Here's a billboard announcing Romano's passing...not only his sister, making the
announcement, but the entire city of Neive!
But not only did Romano's sister post an announcement, but so did the Donna
Romano was an unusual character...he seemed to treasure the seclusion of his
little distillery and his small house.
He was an artist in every sense of the word.
My friend Norbert says Levi's grappas are the most distinctive he's tasted. Enough
said. Norbert's an expert in white alcohols.
Whatever his secret in making grappa, he knew what he was doing.
We treasure the pleasant memories
of visiting this character and in having a sip of his grappa.
I understand there's a neighbor of Levi's who maintains some sort of
Inga distillery is another Piemontese producer, but on a larger scale than Levi. Inga
produces a range of products, vodka, an amaro and some liqueurs. We see their
grappas and these are pretty nice.
Their products come in rather less-showy glass
and the grappas have price tags on them which would allow for someone to actually purchase
more than one bottle in a lifetime.
We favor their Dolcetto and Moscato grappas, as
these are both aromatic varieties and they are handled with skill by Inga.
INGA Grappa di Dolcetto $28.99 375ml
INGA Grappa di Moscato $28.99 375ml
Nardini is a sizeable firm and we have their traditionally-labeled
aquavite. It is sold here only in liter-sized bottles, so you'd best take a liking
to this. The aroma reminds me of a box or bowl full of sweet, juicy raisins.
It's made of Pinot Bianco, Tocai and Cabernet grown in the Veneto.
NARDINI Aquavite $59.99 1000ml (liter bottle)
NARDINI Aquavite Riserva $67.99 (liter)
Piemontese distiller makes a range of grappe.
We usually have their
liqueur called "Grappa & Camomile" in stock.
It's, apparently, a Piemontese specialty, said to have a calming effect, as well
as being a digestivo.
MAROLO Grappa e Camomile (new lower price--new
importer!) $49.99 (750ml)
MAROLO MOSCATO GRAPPA Sale $59.99 750ml
MAROLO AMARONE GRAPPA $71.99 750ml
CASTELLO di BANFI
a grappa that's made from the press cake of Brunello di Montalcino.
It's nicely done, clean and fresh, with a bit of a kick.
BANFI GRAPPA $43.99 (750ml)
firm has its origins in what is now Croatia. It was Dalmatia in 1821 when
Luxardo started his firm. Luxardo was from Genoa, but was representing Sardinia
as some sort of ambassador or consulate. Mrs. Luxardo spent her time
making liqueurs and these were, according to legend, of great acclaim. And
thus began this family enterprise that still stands today, though in neighboring
They make a wide range of products...we carry a number of Luxardo liqueurs, as
well as their "Grappa Euganea," a grappa from the Veneto.
Luxardo Grappa Euganea Sold Out Presently
used to be known as the "Duca d'Asti," but today has holdings right in
the heart of the Barolo zone.
Grappa is made by Chiarlo's pals at the Berta distillery.
Chiarlo Grappa di Barolo $29.99 (375ml)
Candolini Grappa $41.99 (750ml)
is a good distiller in Switzerland who has a rather nice Grappa.
has just shipped over a nice grappa made from the press-cake of its fine
This is a full-throttle grappa, having some raisiny notes and a hint of
Nonetheless, fasten your seatbelt when drinking this.
$49.99 for a 750ml bottle.
CASTELLO DI BARBARESCO'S GAJA GRAPPA
believe Gaja actually owns this distillery and produces a modest quantity of
good quality spirits here. Would you expect anything less than good
quality from Gaja?
We visited this place with Angelo many years ago and he took us to meet the
legendary distiller Romano Levi, too.
We usually have a few bottles (375ml format) of grappa from this facility.
Currently we have the "Darmagi" bottling, a grappa distilled from
the Cabernet press cake. It's a clean, clear spirit, with potent
fragrances and a drying 'attack' on the palate.
And there's a bit of the Sperrs grappa, a spirit made of Nebbiolo grown in
the Barolo region.
Currently in stock: Castello di Barbaresco "Darmagi"
(Cabernet) Grappa $65.99 (375ml)
Castello di Barbaresco Sperrs Grappa $65.99 (375ml)
ANDREA DE PONTE
lovely grappa from Italy's Veneto region spends about 8 years in small
There's a mildly woodsy tone and a hint of apricot or other yellow fruit
have a grappa made of Teroldego, a typical red grape from the Trentino
is a modest-sized distillery that's family owned and operated...
They are less than a half hour drive eat of Conegliano, a town famous for
We find this to be a good, clean spirit...it's a secret blend of grape
varieties, but whatever they do, they are on the right track.
you need a grappa for Caffe Corretto, this is a good choice.
750ml bottles Sale tagged at $29.99. While
is a distiller close by Venice.
We have a grappa made from the press cake of Nebbiolo used for making
Barolo. You might even find this to display a bit of the tannic
nature of Barolo.
$49.99 for a 750ml bottle.
Antinori family has a grappa that's said to be from grapes grown on their
It's a mix of Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese and they select their
best, most aromatic lots to send for distillation.
It's a non-oaked grappa, classically styled.