Trentino and grappa: an enduring match
The age-old story of a region’s happy bond with an iconic product
Grappa is made by distilling the marc – the grape skins that are separated from the must during the winemaking process. Distillation is a method that uses a special piece of equipment, namely a still, to heat a fermented liquid and obtain a vapour of volatile compounds that are then cooled and condensed into liquid.
Grappa is a centuries-old Trentino tradition, handed down from generation to generation. It is a historic product: aqua vitae was certainly known before the 16th century, as shown by documents like the edicts of the prince-bishops.
The drink seems to have been used as a treatment for various common ailments from inflammation to toothache. Given its “medicinal” use, there would have been no shortage of opportunities to sip a little grappa down the ages. Through their stories, our grandparents’ generation has helped to pass on the custom of using this spirit as a domestic painkiller even now (in moderation, of course!).
Distillation has evolved into a fine art. Technological advances in the use of heat have simplified the process and spurred a leap forward in product quality. A new era in distillation began in Trentino after World War I, with a new method named after its inventor: Tullio Zadra.
Tullio Zadra stills were an absolute revolution. They extracted the aromas more effectively from the marc, introduced into the boiler in limited amounts, for a superior overall result. Smaller quantity, higher quality: no surprise there. The technique follows the traditional rules – indirect heat, a slow process, constant expert oversight. This “discontinuous” method of working demands great patience and skill of the producer, who must supervise the process step by step to optimise the temperature and obtain the desired result: a product of supreme quality.
Although this approach simplifies the process of distillation – or lambicar, as we say in our regional dialect – what really makes Trentino grappa unique is the knowledge and expertise of the master distillers who judiciously distil off the “heart”, the precious essence of the product, from the “heads” and “tails”.
What’s the difference between white and yellow grappa?
Let’s dive deeper into what makes Trentino grappas what they are.
All grappas start out the same: colourless and clear. For one of grappa’s defining traits is its total lack of impurities. White grappa is produced by decanting the distillate, after it has been left to rest for a while, into steel or glass vats to preserve the aromas of the grape variety.
Grappas with warmer tones from yellow to brown are aged in wooden containers (typically barrels, as for wine), which gradually release their natural colours. Once distilled, this kind of grappa is poured into barrels and left for at least 12 months – only then is it worthy of the name “grappa barrique” or barrel-aged grappa. Unlike young white grappas, aged grappas feature sweet aromas like vanilla and dried fruit.
The Institute for the Protection of Trentino Grappa: certified quality
With 24 member distilleries, the Institute for the Protection of Trentino Grappa is a supervisory body tasked with safeguarding, championing and promoting the quality of the grappa produced exclusively from marc made in the Trentino region. High-quality authentic Trentino grappa is easily recognisable from the trident mark on the bottle. Certified grappa must pass a series of stringent checks to assure the integrity of the production process. The product is also rigorously monitored for its chemical properties and its taste and smell. The mark, meanwhile, is a testament to the product’s provenance in Trentino.