I have been a grappa drinker since the first time I went to Italy in 1970. I generally enjoy grappa after meals, but I also like it in espresso (caffé corretto), drizzled on Italian ices, in a fruit salad, with chocolate, etc.
Grappa tastings don’t typically include dinner so I was intrigued to receive an invitation to a grappa tasting dinner. When I arrived at the restaurant to meet the host, Michele Dolzan, General Director of the Villa de Varda Distillery, I found him seated at a table covered with grappa bottles.
Located in the small town of Mezzolombardo in the region of Trentino, the Villa de Varda Distillery is situated on the Piana Rotallana, a wide, highly fertile, well drained alluvial plain crossed by the Adige River and the Noce Stream at the foot of the Alps.
Michele said that it is a family owned distillery and they grow their own grapes (except for the Amarone grappa). The vines are cultivated using the pergola system.
Once Michele started talking about his grappa, I understood how knowledgeable and passionate about grappa he is and how very proud of the distillation method developed by his father Dr. Luigi Dolzan.
He explained in detail his father’s method, known as the de Varda Method, for the distillation for Italian grappa. There are four steps: Selection of Raw Materials: carefully selected marc derived from the soft pressing of a single grape that has been picked from soft, fresh bunches still dripping with must.
Fermentation of the Must: conducted right after the marc arrives at the distillery. It takes place under controlled temperatures with select yeasts and enzymes.
Distillation: conducted slowly in exclusive discontinuous pot-stills where the “heads and tails” are eliminated, allowing the volatile components responsible for each grappa’s flavor to undergo evaporation and consequent condensation that enables the grappa to fully maintain the typical characteristics of the Trentino grapes.V
Maturation: the grappa remains in steel casks for at least 6 months. For a grappa to be considered Riserva Trentina it must spend more than two years in oak. Then the alcohol is reduced and the final spirit is refrigerated and filtered.
Grappa Pinot Grigio (I Monovitigni) 100% Pinot Grigio pomace. Michele referred to it as traditional grappa, because it is crystal clear. This is a fresh clean grappa, well balanced with nice fruit and aromas of ripe pears, peach and citrus notes. On the palate it is well rounded and it has certain smoothness but is unquestionably grappa! 373 ml $49.9
Grappa Moscato (I Monovitigni) 100% Moscato pomace Traditiona grappa. It has typical aromatic aromas of the Moscato grape with hints of orange blossom, apricot and a touch of pineapple. Michele Dolzan said that this may be the best grappa for “beginners” because it is so aromatic.” 375 ml $49.99
Triè Grappa Riserva made from Teroldego, Pinot Bianco and Muller Thurgau pomace. It is aged for a minimum of 36 months in medium toasted 225 liter French oak barrels, and then the lots are blended together. It has hints of dried fruits, plum, and wild flowers. 375ml $49.99
Grappa Amarone Riserva made from Corvina, Molinara and Rondinella from vineyards in Valpolicella. Mr. Dolzan said that the pomace for this grappa is from the dried grapes used to make Bertani Amarone. The grappa is aged for a minimum of 3 years in medium toasted 225-liter French oak barrels, and then the separate lots are blended together. It has hints of flowers and fruits with a touch of almond. 375ml $59.99
Grappa Amarone Stravecchia (Alta Selezione) Michele said this is a special and limited selection 750ml in a fancy glass bottle with a wooden box. The skin/grapes are careful selected. This grappa is aged for 5 years in barrels that previously held Bertani Amarone. This is a very impressive grappa, smooth, well balanced with hints of almonds flowers, dried fruits and a touch of coffee.
Michele did not pour the grappa from the bottle but used a “wine thief” because he did not want to disturb the grappa. $249.99
All of the aged grappa had a golden yellow to amber color. Most aged grappa from other producers is darker in color and has a vanilla oaky component that makes it very unpleasant, in other words it does not taste like grappa. The aged grappa from Villa de Varda tastes like grappa and may be the best aged grappa I have ever tasted.