No Italian dining experience is complete without the digestif or the “after-dinner” drink. The digestif is often an herbal and aromatic drink that some Italians believe aids digestion. Regardless of whether that’s true, the digestif provides a pleasant conclusion to any Italian meal and encourages longer conversations. 

One of Italy’s most popular digestifs is Grappa, which can be served neat, in a cocktail, or even poured in espresso to make a caffe corretto.

Grappa is a type of pomace brandy crafted from the leftover grape skins, seeds, and stems—the pomace—used in winemaking. This innovative use of winemaking byproducts transforms what was once considered waste into a sophisticated and revered beverage. 

The History and Production of Grappa

Grappa’s origins can be traced back to medieval Northern Italy, particularly in the regions of Veneto, Trentino, Piedmont, and Friuli. The first distillation of pomace likely began as a practical solution for using the leftover grape skins, seeds, and stems after winemaking. 

Read more about Veneto’s most famous food and wine here. 

Medieval farmers and winemakers, not wanting to waste any part of their harvest, discovered that fermenting and distilling these remnants produced a potent spirit. Over the centuries, the process of making Grappa evolved significantly. 

Grappa is traditionally made from the leftover parts of grape varieties like Moscato, Barbera, or Nebbiolo. But nowadays there are grappa producers also working with other varieties of grapes.

The pomace is fermented and distilled to extract the alcohol. 

  • Pot Still Distillation: The traditional method of distillation is the pot still method, which involves a copper pot that allows for careful control over the process. Cuts can be made during the process to separate undesirable parts of the pomace. 
  • Continuous Still Distillation: Another method of distillation is continuous still, where the pomace is continuously fed into a column still. While this method is more efficient and produces larger quantities, the flavor is much less nuanced than pot still distillation.

Grappa can also be aged or unaged. Unaged grappa, or grappa bianca, is bottled directly following distillation, making it clear in color and lighter in flavor. Aged grappa, or grappa invecchiata, is aged for several months to several years, which adds depth and complexity. The type of wood, whether oak, cherry, or acacia, also influences the final flavor and color, which can be darker.  

grappa tasting italy

Protected Geographical Indication of Grappa

In the European Union, Grappa is recognized as a protected geographical indication, meaning that the product must live up to certain standards. 

This means that grappa must be produced in Italy and must use grapes from Italy. Grappa producers must adhere to strict production regulations regarding the distillation process and the alcohol content.  

Grappa’s protected status guarantees that it is produced to high standards that uphold the traditions of Italian culture. This helps to assure consumers that they are purchasing a genuine product. The PGI status also helps to stimulate the local economies because it keeps production in family-owned businesses that will uphold the standards and pass down artisanal skills. 

Finding High-Quality Grappa

The main difference between a basic grappa and a refined, high-quality grappa is in the base. The best-tasting grappa is made from a single grape variety rather than multiple varieties of what is leftover. The single-grape grappa is where the truly life-changing tasting experiences happen! 

You’ll also want to look for small-batch distilleries with a single name from trusted craft producers like Nonino, Poli, or Berta. Authentic grappa will also have the PGI label guaranteeing it is produced in Italy according to traditional methods. 

Another factor for consideration is aging. Grappa bianca, or unaged grappa, often has more of a clean and crisp taste, while grappa invecchiata offers more complexity and depth of flavor due to the pomace interacting with the wood of the barrels. 

how grappa is made italy

How to Drink Grappa

Grappa is a drink that must be enjoyed in specific ways for the best experience. 

Grappa is best served at room temperature, around 18-20°C (64-68°F). This allows its full range of aromas and flavors to emerge. Some younger or aromatic Grappas can also be enjoyed slightly chilled. A tulip-shaped grappa glass for serving neat will help to concentrate the aromas.

Another popular way to drink Grappa in Italy is with a shot of espresso, also called caffe corretto, or the “corrected coffee.” Grappa is also popular in some cocktails. 


Experiencing Grappa in Italy

In Italy, grappa is a culture of its own, meaning many tourists come in search of experiences surrounding the signature spirit. 

The leading grappa-producing region of Veneto holds several festivals dedicated to grappa throughout the year. This includes the Grappa Expo, held in the town of Bassano del Grappa, home of the oldest known distillery, among others. 

However, this distillery no longer produces grappa – which is exactly why we take our guests to an artisanal grappa maker at the foothills of the Dolomites!

This niche grappa producer is one of the last remaining of his kind, making this a rare experience that most tourists won’t be able to find at larger distillery tours. If you have tried grappa before, we encourage you to throw that out the window before this experience, as it is nothing like what you can buy in the store. Not to mention, you’ll be inside of a small stone cottage at the base of the mountain. 

And the best part? The grappa is unlimited! 

But that’s far from the only activity you’ll get to experience with the Northern Italian Delights itinerary! 

On this epic ten-day journey, you’ll go to a UNESCO Palladian villa wine-maker still owned and operated by the Doge family of Venice, prepare an entire farm-to-table meal inside of a traditional Venetian country home, and learn about organic cheese production with a visit to the cheese caves! 

As an Italian expat and lifelong local, we personally vacation to Veneto every year and are proud to give guests the opportunity to experience the real Italy. But we’re not going to take you to the locations you see on TV or in the movies – you’ll never wait in line or have to push your way through a crowd! 

Meaning you have more time to relax and soak up the simple joy of Italian culture. And you can feel good knowing we don’t take you to locations that are under the pressures of tourism. 

Take the guesswork out of your dream Italian vacation! Click here to get started. 


grappa guide italy




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