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Like so many of the great spirits of Europe, Grappa was born from a need to make resources go that little bit further, to eke out the last drop of flavor and potential from the crops of winemakers. Indeed, Italian vintners invented Grappa as a way to make use of the pomace - leftover grape skins, stems, pulp and seeds - which remained after the juice was extracted from the fruit needed to make wine. Over the centuries, the process was refined, and the distillation of Grappa became an art in itself. Today, top Grappa producers use a range of state of the art equipment, from continuous stills to pot stills, to manufacture a wide variety of Grappas, each with their own distinct characteristics.
Most of us know Grappa from our local Italian restaurants, where it is commonly served as a digestif. However, in the twenty first century, there is a high interest in unique, boutique Grappas, which showcase the talent of the distillers through a range of interesting qualities. Grappa can be aged in oak, in which case it takes on a beautiful golden color, quite different from the clear Grappas we are most familiar with. The high end Grappas are a world away from the harsh spirit many of us have encountered, and have a smooth, gentle quality which can be nothing short of a revelation.
There are few countries in the world with a viticultural history as long or as illustrious as that claimed by Italy. Grapes were first being grown and cultivated on Italian soil several thousand years ago by the Greeks and the Pheonicians, who named Italy 'Oenotria' – the land of wines – so impressed were they with the climate and the suitability of the soil for wine production. Of course, it was the rise of the Roman Empire which had the most lasting influence on wine production in Italy, and their influence can still be felt today, as much of the riches of the empire came about through their enthusiasm for producing wines and exporting it to neighbouring countries. Since those times, a vast amount of Italian land has remained primarily for vine cultivation, and thousands of wineries can be found throughout the entire length and breadth of this beautiful country, drenched in Mediterranean sunshine and benefiting from the excellent fertile soils found there. Italy remains very much a 'land of wines', and one could not imagine this country, its landscape and culture, without it.
Situated in the north-western part of Italy, the region of Piedmont is known worldwide and is highly respected for the quality of the wines produced there. Many of the most successful sub-regions in Piedmont produce many of the world's finest red wines, such as those made from the excellent Nebbiolo grape varietal in areas such as Barolo and Barbaresco. However, the historic wineries which typify this region use a relatively wide variety of grapes, including Dolcetto and Barbera for their red wines, which are typically aged and have a delightful velvety character. Piedmont isn't all about beautifully complex red wines, though, as it is also famed for high quality, elegant sparkling wines, notably the Asti wines made with the white Moscato grape. The region benefits from a range of terroirs which are often well expressed in the sparkling wines, and a wonderfully consistent climate ideal for vineyard cultivation.