7 things you didn’t know about Grappa – the after-dinner digestif

Found in some of the top fine-dining restaurants around the world, Grappa is one of the most famous Italian beverages available today. But did you know that the Italian digestif was once considered a poor man’s drink?

Here are 7 more things you may not have known about the European spirit, known in South Africa as Husk Spirit.

Grappa is an Italian spirit

Grappa is an Italian spirit that is made from the skins, pips, and stalks of grapes.

Grappa has a higher ABV (alcohol by volume) than wine

Grappas typically contain anywhere between 38 and 60 percent alcohol by volume (ABV)! By comparison, vodka, rum, and tequila generally have only 40% ABV, and wine has an average of 12%. Italians are famous for adding this strong drink to make their espressos even stronger. They call this ‘correcting their espresso’ or “caffe correcto!”

Grappa originates from Northern Italy

Grappa was first made in the town of Bassano del Grappa. These days, regions such as Veneto, Tuscany and Piedmont are best known for producing the grape spirit. Vineyards in the north benefit from the cooler weather, creating the ideal conditions for the prestigious drink that has accrued a niche international following.

There are two theories for how the name grappa came to be. The first is that the word grappa is derived from the Latin word “grappapolis” which means ‘bunch of grapes.’ The second is that the name was chosen because Grappa was first made in the town of Bassano del Grappa. 

Grappa has been around since the 8th Century

Grappa has been around long before whiskey, gin and even vodka! It is said that grappa distillation originated in the middle east in the early 8th century. By 1100, it had found its way to Europe. There is evidence of the grape spirit in the foothills of the Italian Alps as early as 1400 and by 1500 grappa had become a fully licensed drink in Italy!

Perhaps, most interesting of all, is that for centuries, before it became the chic, upper-class digestif we all know, grappa was a fiery spirit made for poor Italian farmers to keep them warm in the long winters.

The drink was known as “healthy water” as it was believed to help Italians relax and digest their food at the end of a meal. Many also believed that the strong spirit would work as a remedy for indigestion, toothache, rheumatism and even bronchitis.

It was only in the early 1970s, when Giannola Nonino, an Italian woman from Percoto Italy, began making grappa from a single grape, as opposed to the traditional mix of discarded grape seeds, stalks and stems, that grappa became the unique, artisanal spirit we drink today.

In South Africa, grappa is a much more recent addition to our bottle store shelves as it was only in the 1990s – when the spirit market was de-monopolised – that South African winemakers began producing it here.

Few people know that grappa is also well-known in Uruguay and Argentina. This is because of the Italian immigration that took place in these countries many years ago. In Uruguay, the local version is called grappamiel. Here, honey is added to the traditional drink and it is served mainly in winter as a way to warm up the throat.

Grappa is a Product of Designated Origin

Grappa is called ‘marc’ in France, ‘raki’ in Turkey, ‘orujo’ in Spain and ‘husk spirit’ in South Africa.The reason that this grape spirit has so many names is that it is a Product of Designated Origin- like champagne. In other words, the European Union dictates that the term grappa can only be used if the drink is distilled in Italy from the Italian grape pomace.

Grappa is best enjoyed after a meal

In Italian tradition, grappa is best enjoyed when served at room temperature after the meal.

Choosing the right grappa glass is key to enjoying your grappa. The perfect glass is generally tall and narrow with a slightly wider opening at the top and a proper stem. Here are two ways to enjoy the aromas of the grape spirit as you hold your glass and swirl its contents.

  1. The traditional way requires you to use your index finger and thumb to pinch the stem while your bent middle finger supports the foot.
  2. The modern approach requires you to hold the foot of the glass using your index finger and thumb.

If tasting, stir gently and then smell before taking a sip. Grappa is not a one-shot drink. Instead, take small sips and keep your glass filled one-third or less – this will keep the vapours further away from your nose.

Modern drinkers have adopted the drink as a popular spirit choice for making cocktails. Gate Restaurant Head Chef, Jack Coetzee, suggests using grappa, limoncello, lemon juice and egg white for a delicious and creative cocktail!

Quoin Rock Husk Spirit

Quoin Rock’s Husk Spirit uses the skins of our Vine-dried Sauvignon Blanc grapes. The winemaker, Schalk Opperman, believes this increases the flavour profile and creates a very fragrant grappa.

Owners of Quoin Rock, Vitaly Gaiduk and MD Denis Gaiduk have always been very fond of Italy and especially grappa. The digestif has always been a part of their lives and they have been producing grappa for their personal consumption since 2015. In 2020, the pair decided to make their Husk Spirit available for purchase. The Quoin Rock Husk Spirit is sold in gift packaging and is available from the Wine Estate and online, at R1 500 per bottle.

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