Tasting and Learning about Grappa at the Distilleria Marzadro

The Marzadro Distilleria in Trentino was one of the distilleries Michele and I visited on the Hello Grappa Tour in May..  I had met Alessandro Marzadro in NYC a few years ago when he was giving a seminar on his family’s distillery. I was very impressed by his knowledge and his grappa and was looking forward to meeting him again at the distillery.  His aunt, Sabrina Marzadro,  founded the distillery in 1949 and Alessandro is the third generation to work in this family run distillery. The distillery is located in Trentino

Alessandro told us that at one time, grappa was only drunk by farm workers especially in the cold weather to give them energy before they went into the fields to work. It was a morning drink taken between the hours of 8:00 AM and 10:00 AM. He made the point that grappa was only made by the farmers in Northern Italy. Southern Italy does not have a tradition of grappa because it is too warm. It is only recently with the popularity and often high prices for grappa that grappa has achieved that wineries in Southern Italy have their grape pomace (vinaccia in Italian) turned into grappa. He said the grappa was first called acqua vita, water of life, and the people of Trentino have always embraced the art of distillation.

Producing Grappa

Up until about 20 years ago all grappa was what Alessandro referred to as traditional grappa, that is, made without being aged in wood. It was clear in color and the flavor reflected the grapes that it was made from. Now many grappas are aged in new barriques and for the most part they are dark in color.  In many cases the wood flavor has taken over.

Alessandro said that grappa made from white grapes has more aromas and is easier to drink than grappa made from red grapes, although grappa made from red grapes has more taste. If you are going to introduce grappa to someone for the first time it is better to chose a grappa made from white grapes as it is easier to drink.  Alessandro said that you must start with the best raw material. Trentino makes great wines so this is not a problem. Knowledge and experience are also needed to produce a great product.

In 2005 they built a new distillery which is organized in such a way that it makes it easier to understand how grappa is made.

Alessandro said that in the distillery there are 100 days of work, 24/7 from September to December. The freshest selected pomace is distilled each day. The distillation takes place in alembics using the traditional discontinuous bain marie system (steam distillation), which is part of the Trentino culture. He said that the first part of the production called the “head” tastes bad because it contains too much methane (he said it tastes like nail polish) and is therefore discarded. The last part is called the “tail” and contains too many impurities and is also discarded. The discontinuous method produces small amounts of high quality grappa.

The alembics are handmade out of copper and are excellent conductors of heat. Therefore the particular fragrances and aromas of the pomace (a solid raw material-grape skins) are enhanced to their maximum. In order to keep everything uniform, the whole system is computerized.

The pomace waiting to be made into grappa

Alessandro pointed out that the continuous process of grappa production in giant stills produces large amounts of grappa. He said that this type of production, which he does not use, produces commercial grappa that is not of a very good quality.

After distillation the traditional grappa is left alone. The grappa that is to be aged is placed in barrels of different sizes ranging from 225 liter barriques to 1,500 liter barrels, and even larger.  Alessandro pointed out two of the biggest barrels I have ever seen in any winery or distillery.

The barrels are made different types of toasted wood, including oak, acacia, cherry and ash. Alessandro said they use wood from all over the world.  Some new barrels are from a barrel maker who also produces barrels used for balsamic vinegar. They also have barrels that were used to age port.

The Grappa

Grappa Anfora Grappa aged in Terracotta.

Amphorae made from a blend of different types of clay from the Tuscan towns of Montelupo and Impruneta are also used for aging some of the grappa. This type of aging achieves the micro-oxygenation which is twice what you would find using barrels.

This type of grappa ages 10 months in 300 liter amphorae.  Alessandro said it enriches the Grappa’s elegance and softness, giving the characteristics of aging with out the classic flavor of wood. It is made from a blend of the pomace from grapes indigenous to the Trentino region: 80% Marzemino and Merlot and 20% Chardonnay, Müller Thurgau and Moscato.

Grappa Moscato in Purezza 100% Moscato. Carefully selected marc from Moscato grapes from the areas of Vallagarina in the municipalities of Calliano and Besenello. Distillation is carried out in a bagnomaria, bain marie or steam pot still, typical of Trentino. This is a full soft, elegant and aromatic grappa with notes of the Moscato grape.

Grappa Invecchiata Morbido Barrique “La Trentina” made from the marc of the Moscato, Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer grapes. It is aged for several months in barrels previously used for aging Le Ciciotto Luna Stravecchia Grappa.   Alessandro described this grappa as aromatic, gentle, soft, delicate and captivating.

Gewurztraimer “Giare” 100% Gewurztraminer. The mark is distilled in a bagnomaria still. Aging is for 36 months in 1000 liter oak barrels. This grappa has a very light tinge of color from the barrel aging. It is very aromatic, intense and delicate at the same time with all the aromas of the Gewurztraminer grape.

Le Diciotto Lune Riserva Botte Porto   Alessandro said that this was a second special edition of the Grappa Stravecchia. Riserva Botte Porto comes from an additional aging period of 18 months, in a limited number of selected barrels previously used to age Port wine. This extra refinement highlights the sharper Grappa-wood contrasts and the Port barrels add a fruity scent. It is aged for 36 months: 18 in small barrels made of different woods and 18 months in Port barrels. Made from the skins of 70% Marzemino, Teroldego, and Merlot and 30% Chardonnay and Muscat. There is some controversy among the producers over putting the word Porto on the label. This an intense and fruity grappa.

Espressioni Aromatica Alessandro said the barrel aging is part of a continuous effort to enhance the results achieved by careful distillation. Espression by Andrea Marzadro, the master distiller,ly contains the best results achieved in the aging room for the year. It is crafted by individually distilling the marc from Gewürztraminer and Müller Thurgau in a bagnomaria and blending them before aging. It ages for 4 years in 500 liter oak barrels. The grappa is aromatic, fruity and smooth with a hint of wood.

Affina- Riserva Ciliegio made from the must of Lagrein and Pinot Noir grapes, which are gently pressed and then distilled in a bagnomaria. The resulting grappa is aged for 10 years in small cherry barrels. The wood used to make the barrels (prunus cerasus) is aged for at least 26 months, while the curvature of the staves is achieved using the steam bending method combined with a light toasting. It is soft, elegant and complex.

As I was at our first meeting, I was once again very impressed with Alessandro Marzadro and with his grappa.

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3 Comments

Filed under Grappa, Hello Grappa, Marzardo Distillery, Uncategorized

3 responses to “Tasting and Learning about Grappa at the Distilleria Marzadro

  1. David A Mancini

    Great article, Charles! I’m feeling the after effects of grappa from last night!

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