Classifying grappa: young, aromatic or barricata?
We’ve talked at length about grappa since the beginning of this blog. However, what’s not always clear is the classification of grappa, which underlies all subsequent assessments.
Here we’ll find out how grappa can be classified according to ANAG, the National Association of Grappa Tasters. It’s not a legal classification, but it has become a widely-used method, and constitutes an excellent benchmark.
The label of the grappa
The classification of grappa has a lot to do with its age and the processes it undergoes after production. The information given on the label can be a useful initial indication: it helps us to understand the geographical denomination of origin (basically, the region where it’s produced), the type of still (not always stated), the grape variety the pomace comes from (indicated particularly if the grappa is single-variety) and, occasionally, an indication of the spirit’s ageing process. Italian law actually defines as grappa only distillates that have aged in wooden barrels; others are not mentioned. Nevertheless, ANAG seeks to provide a classification which, although not acknowledged legally, has become best practice. The categorisation is based primarily on the grappa’s sensory characteristics and its ageing.
Grappa is defined as young when it undergoes a “resting” period in steel or glass containers after distillation. It does not spend any time in wood, and therefore carries only the aromas derived from the grape variety. This type of grappa is transparent and colourless and has a delicate fruity aroma of pomace and a dry taste. Tasting a young grappa is the best way of understanding the skill of the distiller in transferring the aromatic elements of the raw material into the finished product.
Young aromatic grappa
Not to be confused with flavoured grappa, which we discussed in this post. This is a young grappa produced from the pomace of aromatic or semi-aromatic grapes, such as Marolo’s Grappa di Moscato, Gewurztraminer or Brachetto. This type of grappa brings out the predominant aromas of the grape variety. In a tasting analysis we find all the primary flavours of the original grape, a wealth of floral aromatic substances extracted primarily from the outer skin.
Grappa aged in wood and barricata
Grappa is bottled after being aged in wooden casks for a minimum of 12 months. Its colour, bouquet and flavour varies according to the type of wood and the volume of the container. If the grappa is aged in barriques (French oak barrels holding an average of 225 – 228 litres), it can legally be called “Grappa barrique or barricata” and is subject to customs inspection. Unlike young grappas, the aged version has a predominance of sweet aromas of vanilla and dried fruit.
This denomination is defined by law and must be aged in wooden casks for 12 to 18 months: a period certified by customs checks. The colour, bouquet and flavour vary according to the type and capacity of the barrels. For Marolo aged grappas, for example, a mixture of oak and acacia wood is used. In this kind of grappa, tertiary aromas begin to be noticeable, derived from the time spent in contact with the wood.
Riserva or Stravecchia grappa
This category is also defined by law, and must be aged in wooden barrels for a minimum of 18 months and certified by the Customs Agency. Its colour, aroma and flavour vary according to the type and volume of the wooden barrels. In general, this type of grappa has a smooth, delicate taste. The lengthy ageing confers perceptible notes of tobacco and spicy nuances as well as sweet flavours and aromas. Marolo’s Grandi Riserve are aged for more than 30 years and can be conditioned in six different types of wood. This gives them a bouquet that ranges from pepper to cloves, ripe apples or fruity jam. All enhanced with a floral hint of honey.
In this case the grappa (usually young) is completed by the addition of natural plant-based flavourings such as aromatic herbs or fruits by means of infusion. The chlorophyll-rich herbs or the fruits give the grappa a distinctive colour. The bouquet depends on the type of herb or fruit used. An example of an infused grappa is Milla Marolo: a liqueur obtained by the infusion of camomile flowers in Nebbiolo grappa.