Notes from Grappathon 2011

Notes from Grappathon 2011

Grappa, something of a national spirit in Italy, doesn’t have to come from the famous country. Anyone can make the stuff — and, arguably, it’s far easier for a grape-grower in, say, Virginia, to produce good grappa than good wine.

Recently I gathered with friends to sample and compare a host of grappas from all around our fair country, along with a few Old World ones, too. This wasn’t a formal review — and I’m not grading the spirits discussed here — mainly because you’ll probably never see any of these in the wild.

Our adventure covered the following territories:

Brandy Peaks — Oregon Marc Brandy Muscat

Brandy Peaks — Grappa

Amalgamated Distilling — Vita di Saint Louis, Blanca (OH)

Amalgamated Distilling — Vita di Saint Louis, Giallo

Flag Hill Winery and Distillery — Graham’s Grappa (NH)

Peach Street Distillers — Muscat Grappa (CO)

Peach Street Distillers — Viognier Grappa

Forks of Cheat Winery — West Virginia Grappa

Stillwater Spirits — Cole Ranch, Cabernet Sauvignon Grappa (CA)

…plus a pair of Italian grappas

Favorites? Stillwater’s Cabernet Grappa was traditional in the nose — with olive pit and nut aromas — but proved complex, with a burnt caramel saltiness and sweetness on the tongue. Fans of traditional Italian grappa will likely enjoy this one.

Peach Street’s Viognier grappa was also a winner, fruity with apple notes and a fun chocolate finish; oddly, the Muscat grappa from the same distiller was too overpowering with citrus notes and an astringent body.

Still, nothing really compared to La Grappa di Pino Zardetto, a grappa made from Prosecco, vibrant with aromatics, honey, flower, and fruits, but all perfectly balanced. It’s a grappa for the both the grappa novice and the pro, and a winning example of how great good grappa can be.

What of the rest? As with all sorts of spirits, these grappas occupied a range between passable to awful, the worst coming off like nail polish remover and the better ones offering some nuance, but often drifting back into grappa’s old habits: fuel overtones and overpowering earth character.

All told? A really informative tasting that proved to me that you don’t have to be Italian to make good grappa… but it certainly doesn’t hurt.

Christopher Null is the founder and editor in chief of Drinkhacker. A veteran writer and journalist, he also operates Null Media, a bespoke content creation company.


  1. Nathan on September 8, 2011 at 8:26 pm

    I’ve only ever had one grappa, I can’t recall the brand, but it was from BevMo, in the $20 price range, and unbelievably awful. It actually hurt my stomach to drink. I’ve looked at my local Total Wine and BevMo, but I have no idea what to look for and I’m afraid to have a repeat of my last experience.

    Do you have a brand recommendation? I’d prefer something not too expensive, easy to find and good for a beginner in grappa. Hopefully I am not asking for too much.

  2. Christopher Null on September 8, 2011 at 10:00 pm

    Nathan – try something from Poli, or anything aged — the darker the color, the better.

  3. Rory Donovan on September 9, 2011 at 11:20 am

    Glad you liked the Viognier- We’ll keep working on the muscat. Shoot me an email if you want to talk about some of our other varieties.

  4. jason on September 12, 2011 at 9:27 pm

    DrinkupNY has a reasonably priced grappa called Carpene Malvolti Grappa Bianca. Pretty much all the grappa they have for sell is decent stuff with the exception of the Caffo Grappa di Greco. I tried a friend’s bottle of Clear Creek grappa and was pleasantly surprised as well.

    Like rhum agricole, grappa can be challenging to the uninitiated at first. But give it time, and come back to it every so often, and eventually you will see the light.

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