The Glory of Grappa
In keeping with the spirit (pun intended) of this blog, today’s post will be an educational one, but this will not be my thoughts about particular Italian wines, grapes or producers, but rather a review of the wonderful book Grappa: Italy Bottled written by Ove Boudin.
Boudin, a Swedish wine writer, does a terrific job informing as well as entertaining in this book; after reading this, you’d probably like to sit down and have a glass of beer – oops, I mean grappa – with him. He admits that when he started this project, he was curious about grappa, yet not really a devotee; “there was a time when grappa was a challenge that made me hesitate. Then the challenge aroused my curiousity.”
So Boudin decided to discover first-hand the wonders of grappa; he would head to Italy and drive to a good number of distilleries in the northern regions – these areas are home to the finest examples of grappa in the country - and learn everything he could about production methods, from the type of alambicco – the still – to the various flavors imparted by each variety, from the aromatic Moscato and Gewurztraminer to the more powerful Nebbiolo or Barbera.
Before sharing his travels however, Boudin devotes a good section of his book to an A to Z look at grappa, not only telling us how it is made in great detail – we learn the details of continuous distillation versus non-continuous (the latter method yields much more complex products) – but also giving us a brief history of grappa as well as telling us what to expect when tasting a grappa, which is generally quite different than tasting wine.
After this opening section, Boudin shares his grappa adventures with us as he drives throughout regions such as Trentino-Alto Adige, Friuli, Veneto and Piemonte in search of the finest offerings available. He shares an important thought with us at the beginning of this section; “Grappa does not come to you. You must come to the grappa.” This is such an important notion to understand, as the author reminds us how unique this product is. He will dislike one example, but believes his reaction is probably due to his lack of experience tasting these products and that the grappa will taste better upon his return to Sweden. It’s this refreshing attitude, one in which the author does not take himself too seriously that makes this book such an entertaining read.
Along the way he takes us to some of the most famous grappa producers, such as Pojer & Sandri in Trentino, Nardini in the Veneto and Marolo in Piemonte, while also profiling such lesser-known excellent distillerie as Pilzer in Trentino, Capovilla in the Veneto, Nannoni in Toscana and Portofino in Liguria. Of course, what would any study of grappa be without mention of the amazing products of Poli and Romano Levi, who are given thoughtful profiles by the author.
I truly admire the way that Boudin takes his time telling this story as this is more than a technical diatribe about grappa and it is certainly more than a check list of the best producers. His description of his travels throughout Italy – struggling with the language, missing turnoffs on the highway, et al – are quite charming. I particularly loved his section on Conegliano – Valdobbiadene and the simple pleasures he discovered during his brief time there.
I highly recommend Grappa: Italy Bottled for anyone who wants to learn more about this iconic product as well as those who simply want to read a nicely spun yarn about life in Italy.