Elizabetta Nonino, third generation of the Nonino family, was recently in India to launch her family’s eponymous grappa and introduce us to this alcoholic by-product of wine. Grappa is an Italian alcohol which is made by distilling pomace, a by-product of the winemaking process. Suneeta Sodhi Kanga has a grip on grappa, in case you are wondering what it is. Left: Elisabetta Nonino, daughter of Giannola Nonino, founder of Orazio Nonino
Pomace is the organic material left over after grapes are pressed into juice for fermentation. A typical batch of pomace includes grape skins, seeds, stems, and sometimes a few leaves as well.
Grappa is made by heating the pomace, causing it to produce steam, and then forcing the steam through a distillation column. The name grappa is in fact a reference to this, as it means “grape stems” in an Italian dialect and has been around since the Middle Ages.
For generations, Italians have sipped this “firewater” after meals and even added a little to their morning espresso, to “correct” it. In Italy, grappa is primarily served as a digestivo or after-dinner drink. Its main purpose was to aid in the digestion of heavy meals.
Grappa started as a by-product of the Italian winemaking trade. It was a rough drink made with what was available, and potent enough to get the farmers through the cold winter months. It was good at warming you up, but not particularly tasty. Grappa, largely, remained a drink of the poor workmen and farmers until the 1960s.
Once considered an acquired taste, popular only in Italy, Grappa, today, is making itself known around the world. Freshly distilled grappa is colourless, with a strong odour of alcohol. Today’s Grappa is about 40 to 45 per cent alcohol. That’s 80 to 90 proof. After distillation, Grappa is usually stored in glass bottles for about six months before it is distributed. The flavor profile of Grappa depends on the grape varietals used, and, generally, Grappa is potent and dry.
While grappa can be drunk fresh, most people like to age it, and the finest Italian grappas are aged in wood, sometimes for extended periods of time. When aged in wood, grappa acquires a warm honey colour and a complex flavour. Just like wines, grappas taste very different, depending on where they come from, the grapes used, and the skill of the distiller.
Grappa is now a protected name in the EU, just like Barolo wine and Parmigiano cheese. To be called grappa, the following criteria must be met:
(1) Produced in Italy
(2) Produced from pomace
(3) Fermentation and distillation must occur on the pomace — no added water
The character of Grappa changed in the 1960s, thanks, largely to the efforts of one woman – Giannola Nonino.
Founded in 1897 by Orazio Nonino in the Friuli region of Italy, Nonino has changed the way the world views grappa. Today, current proprietor Benito Nonino and his wife Giannola, together with their three daughters Cristina, Antonella and Elisabetta, continue to lead Italian distillers through their devotion to research, quality and innovation.
In 1984, Benito and Giannola solidified their status as industry leaders by introducing the world’s first single-vineyard; single-grape distillate produced using whole grape clusters. This product, named in Friulan dialect ÙE (pronounced “Oo-ay”), further revolutionized the industry and introduced distillates with uniquely intense aroma and flavour components. Nonino is also responsible for the stylish glass bottles in which Grappa today is sold, a dramatic change from the old medicinal-style bottles.
Aspri Spirits has recently launched 4 labels of Nonino in India, namely Nonino Grappa Monovitigno LO Chardonnay in barriques, Nonino Grappa Monovitigno IL Merlot, Grappa Nonino Vendemmia Millesimata and Grappa Anticacuvee’ Nonino Riserva in barriques.
Present and speaking at the launch of their premium artisan Grappa brand in India was Elisabetta Nonino. “We have already set several benchmarks and have earned our reputation and appreciation across the globe. Today India being one of the fastest growing markets for liquor, we wanted to select a partner who has the expertise and distribution reach to take Nonino to all potential clients. We are proud to be associated with Aspri Spirits in India. With its large distribution network and a nose for the class; we have no doubt that they will make our brand a great success.”
Right: A bottle of Grappa Vendemmia
These spirits are solely imported and distributed by Aspri Spirits in over 10 cities in India and are available at all leading hotels, restaurants and wine bars across the country. Nonino, Grappa Monovitigno, LO Chardonnay in barriques and Nonino, Grappa Monovitigno, IL Merlot costs Rs 4505/-, Grappa Nonino Vendemmia Millesimata, Rs 3180/- and Grappa Anticacuvee’ Nonino Riserva in barriques, Rs 9,000/-.