Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Grappa from Garda - Lake Garda, that is.

Following on from my two posts about visiting the area surrounding Italy’s Lake Garda, let’s find out in more detail what I thought of the various grappas that I picked up.

Each of these does deserve its own post, but since we’ll be able to look at grappa in pretty much all its forms – unaged, 2 years old and 5 years old – in one go, it makes sense to group them together here. And it will also stop me falling farther behind in my posting.

As I’d recently opened the white Grappa Paganini, I decided the sensible approach would be to open the one white grappa that I brought back first, and then move onwards in terms of age… which coincidentally is also the order I bought them in.

Maxentia Grappa di Nosiola (42%)

Nosiola is a variety of wine grape, and is the only variety used in the making of this grappa – hence the use of the word monovitigno on the bottle, like single malt in the scotch world.

The nose is very sweet, revealing berries but is also a bit creamy with that suggestion of white chocolate I enjoy so much. It definitely has the intoxicating smell of the fermenting vats that I remember from our visit to Tenuta San Leonardo.

Once you get it in your mouth it gives great fumes like a good single malt, and is overall very pleasant. In fact, it’s so good that it makes me worry that I can’t get stuff as good as this without going to Italy. Time will tell.

In terms of comparison with the other white grappas I’ve known, this has to be among the best. I’d like to get hold of another bottle of Domenis Storica, so that I can work out how it stands against that one (that was the first I ever tried), but compared against my current favourite, Castello San Donato inPerano’s Grappa Mille Lune, this is definitely at least as good.

Casimiro Ritocchi nel Tempo (42%)

I elected to buy this grappa without tasting it beforehand, and was finally able to get inside its metaphorical pants at a video games night at Phil’s.

Aged between 18 months and 2 years, this particular distillery doesn’t do an older expression than that, as it is felt that the grappa flavours don’t survive such ageing. Here it seems the wood has exerted a mellowness over the end results that brings the spirit closer to the taste of brandy (how brandy should be – but isn’t).

There’s a bit of citrus on the nose, then on the palate, a strong and curious impression of Turkish delight. It is very, very soft and entirely pleasant – especially the fumes, if you let them get all up in your nasal passages.

Distilleria di Francesco Vino Santo Riserva

At 50% alcohol, this one is a little bit too strong to be enjoyed on its own. Mind you, my mum enjoyed it that way. I prefer to add a tiny dash of water however – it helps to bring out the sweetness and mutes the dried fruit flavours that are otherwise pervasive. There’s a little vanilla there also. Sweet on the tip of the tongue, woody further back.

It is made from the marc of the Vino Santo grape, which is used to make sweet wines to accompany desserts and has been aged for 5 years.

San Leonardo Grappa Stravecchia

The piece of resistance that I was saving for the birth of our first child. It is bottled at 45% and is made from the marc of grapes that were used to make San Leonardo’s flagship red wine. The marc is taken to the local distiller immediately after the formenting vats are emptied to ensure it is still fresh enough to contain great flavour. Then, after distillation, it is aged for 5 years in barrels that previously aged that great red wine, so you’re getting a great product here: fresh marc, superior grapes, long ageing, barrels that contained award winning, even amazing red wine. Let me just remind you at this point, that if you didn’t read my recent posts on the

Garda adventure, they contain quite a lot more about the San Leonardo estate, and are totally worth checking out.

The packaging is really special, but does the product really justify the inflated price tag? Is it any better than the other aged examples we’ve been looking at here?

Well, in direct comparison, the nose of the Stravecchia is definitely the most faithful representation of fresh marc. It is also delicious… but then, so are the other two. I am veering though towards agreeing with the young girl at Casimiro who said grappa doesn’t age so well after two years. The Ritocchi nel Tempo is just so mellow and refined and doesn’t stray too far in any direction, whereas you have just too much of an edge about the other two aged grappas we have here. The Stravecchia in particular has a very woody character that reminds me of a well aged single malt, it’s just perhaps that malt liquor benefits more from oak ageing than distilled marc does.

At 41 euros for the Stravecchia, I probably should have stuck with the [cheaper] unaged variety, but I ultimately made my decision because I thought I could turn malt drinkers on to grappa with the Stravecchia. For the record, I was wrong about that. More for me.

Time for a definitive ranking.

1= Maxentia Grappa di Nosiola and Casimiro Ritocchi nel Tempo. I just can’t separate these at this point. The Casimiro in particular seems to improve each time I open  the bottle, while the Maxentia is just sublime.

3 I have to go with the Stravecchia. Yes, it’s a little too expensive, but it looks the part and it has great pedigree.

4 Distilleria di Francesco needn’t feel downhearted about finishing 4th with its Vino Santo because it still represents terrific grappa. The dried fruit is just a little too pronounced for my personal taste.

Ok, don’t despair, but next week I’ll be talking about grappa again. I promise though that that will be the last time for a while. So if you would join me then, I would be delighted.

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