Something from nothing: it is a romantic notion.
Made by distilling leftover grape skins and seeds (known as pomace), grappa first appeared in Northern Italy several centuries ago. Born from the words grappolo d’uva (grape bunch), this Italian version of brandy is having a renaissance—thanks in part to the historic Friulian distillers of Nonino.
Nonino has elevated this once crass, throat-burning, and eye-watering distillate to a new level of sophistication. Established by Orazio Nonino in 1897, Grappa Nonino has grown into a significant brand—one equated with quality and ingenuity.
Settled in Percoto in Friuli Venezia Giulia, Nonino’s five artisan distilleries have been the scene for some of grappa’s most marked innovations: single-varietal grappas and vintage versions made of pomace from prestigious vineyards. The finest of these selections are housed in bespoke decanters conceived by renowned glass designers such as Baccarat, Riedel, and Venini.
Benito Nonino (an ancestor of Orazio) and his wife Giannola have been the driving force behind Nonino’s successes since the 1960s; the couple has also been instrumental in resurrecting autochthonous regional grape varieties (schioppettino, picolit, and ribolla gialla) for their distillates. Today, continuing in their parents’ creative footsteps, Benito and Giannola’s daughters Cristina, Antonella, and Elisabetta direct the company forward.
Among a dizzying selection of premium, vintage, riserva, and aged grappas (as well as amari), the aromatic versions are standouts. Nonino Grappa Vendemmia Monovitigno 2010 is made from pinot, friulano, and malvasia; floral tones, creamed yellow fruit, and yeasty-saline notes translate to a harmonious palate with impressive purity. And suggesting apricots, orange blossoms, and honey, il Moscato di Nonino Monovitigno is refreshingly perfumed and singular.
For pure indulgence and evident complexity, the barrique-aged grappas (available in Vancouver) are the most interesting. Grappa Nonino Vendemmia Riserva 2010 is fleshy on the palate and offers warm quince and strawberry jam with hints of toast and toffee. However, the outstanding Lo Chardonnay di Nonino Grappa Monovitigno 2003, a single varietal version, golden in colour and boasting luscious honey and pineapple brûlée notes alongside vanilla and faint spice, is perhaps the most ambrosial.
Bartenders are finding new ways to include grappa in their concoctions, but to discover the finer nuances of these divine (albeit potent) spirits, enjoy them on their own, slightly chilled, in a tulip-shaped glass—typically after a meal, as a digestif. What better way to end the evening?