I might actually like grappa more than whisky. No, it isn’t as complex, but with whisky there are always ones that are your favourite, and others that are… possibly even disappointing. In fact, most of the time I spend drinking whisky seems to be spent wondering how much I like it, and whether I really do, rather than simply enjoying it. Sure, that is a symptom of critical evaluation, but I just want to return to the time when I could enjoy what I was drinking. And that’s what I have with grappa. There’s not that much difference between brands of grappa (but there’s enough), and they are all nice – even the bad ones, which you’ll be reading more about in the coming months. And some are amazing. I’m enjoying it; there is nothing left to ponder, I think to myself.
The thing that irks me though, is that it seems like I’m the only person in Britain who actually likes grappa – or even knows what it is. I’m doing my best to educate people – writing about it, making my guests try it, buying it as an alternative to whisky for gifts – but the fact remains. It isn’t popular and availability here in the UK is sadly low and the variety poor (not in quality, but in scope).
My latest purchase [at the time of writing] was this one, Poli Bassano del Grappa (40% ABV, 50cl, £24.99). Poli is the distiller, and Bassano del Grappa is the town of origin, and in fact, the town where grappa itself originated.
I spotted this one in my local Marks And Spencer a month or two ago and had been saving my credit card reward vouchers, putting unnecessary expenses on my card and waiting for my next batch of vouchers with the intention of picking it up ever since. M&S only reward customers every three months, so it was a long wait, and the £3 I received was disappointing when it finally arrived. I sighed, subdued the rising tide of ennui, and added it to the £7 I already had. Then, also armed with a 15% off voucher I hotfooted it off down there one Friday after work.
“What’s that? Vodka?” asked the bag packing assistant as the lady at the checkout scanned the price.
“No,” said the cashier, peering at the label, “it’s grappa.”
“It’s a liqueur.”
“It’s not a liqueur,” I interjected, “it’s a kind of pomace brandy.”
“Ooo-oooh, it’s brandy, have I hit a nerve?”
I didn’t say anything to that. I’ll let you stew in your own ignorance next time. Fucking liqueur. Guh back to drinkin’ yer fooking Glen’s.
I wasn’t offended or anything. It’s all in a day’s work when you’re spreading the good word of the grappa. I don’t think I converted anyone there, but I reckon there were a couple of people in the queue behind who might have been interested. Any grappa distributors want to pay me more than my current job for working less hours, but more importantly, helping grappa take off over here; get in touch.
This is only the second time I’ve been able to buy grappa in a UK supermarket. On the first occasionthe checkout assistant asked me what it was, too. What does that tell you? Supermarket checkout assistants like a drink, but they don’t know what grappa is. Who does?
This one then, is a young grappa produced from a cuvee of red grape varieties of the Venetian province. It is distilled in small lots in a discontinuous copper still provided with steam pots. I don’t know either.
They produce 27 separate expressions of grappa at the Poli distillery, among which are some really interesting varieties:
- A 13 year old, oak aged expression of which only 9 are produced each year (read: expensive).
- Expressions finished in various ex wine, port, sherry and even rum barrels.
- Expressions produced in a number of varieties of different stills and distillation methods, including a “vacuum double boiler still.”
- A kosher grappa, which you’ve got to be curious about but will probably never, ever buy.
- They also produce grape brandies.
The Poli made its debut in a straight comparison with its predecessor – La Castellina Squarcialupi – which I had actually kept for nearly a year. I’d been deliberately saving it for the next time I had a new bottle, and this was it.
Now, I’ve been enjoying the Squarcialupi, but it hadn’t quite measured up to the San Perano in Donato that I’d picked up on the same trip. I think I’ve already talked about that at length, so let’s just crack on with some direct observations:
The Squarcialupi was 25 euros while the Poli was £24 – both for 50cl. You can clearly see the discrepancy here between the price you’ll pay in Italy and that you have to pay in the UK. Poli is the absolute entry level of the brand and I’m guessing, but I suspect it would cost 15 euros or less in its country of origin. You’d probably be looking at £40+ for the Squarcialupi, if you could get it here because it is an aged and even numbered variety.
Squarcialupi 42-40 Poli (like a rugby score).
Both are quite nicely presented – Poli with its curvy bottle and clasp-like cap and Squarcialupi with the narrow cylinder and modern, understated label design. If I had to pick, it would be the Squarcialupi.
I don’t want to get into hints of this and that, so let’s just jump straight in. As with the other categories, it’s the Squarcialupi that comes out on top. It’s just a little lighter and more delicate, but then it’s perhaps not entirely fair to compare these two different products – aged and unaged grappas are very different animals. Equally though, I’m not saying I always prefer one variety over the other…
Poli does come into its own… on its own. It’s just in direct comparison that it is slightly bettered. With no reference point to hand it is perfectly drinkable, and if you can get over the fact it’s way more expensive here than it would be over there… it’s actually quite reasonably priced compared to general UK grappa prices. It is only a 50cl bottle, so in terms of value it comes in at around the same as 70cl of a decent (but not expensive) single malt, and if you like grappa, that’s pretty good. I do, and I think it’s time you did too – though this one might not be the best place for you to start.