Grappa Tour 2019 Overview

Serendipity on the road

Grappa Tour 2019 is over. So many lucky, magical things happened! I wanted to share a summary of where I visited, one bottle I bought there, and why I bought it. A teaser for future detailed posts.

I won’t tell you about non-Grappa adventures like Oktoberfest in Munich, Truffle hunting in Alba, Bicerin in Torino or harvest in Barolo. These were really fun, but we’re all here for Grappa, right?

First stop was Delea (“Vini e Distillati Angelo Delea SA”) in Losone Switzerland.

I have wanted to visit this Swiss distillery ever since tasting some of their Grappa at StableDC (you can read about that here). Our guide Martina knows their entire operation – they make Wine, Grappa, and Balsamic Vinegar. She had just started showing us around when their pioneering founder and master Grappaiolo Angelo Delea appeared! I’ll provide more details later, it’s enough to say that I learned much about his approach to making Grappa. I bought a bottle of “Grappa Carato Ticinese”, a Merlot grappa. Much of Delea’s wine production is Merlot, and this is a very skillful expression of that grape.

A few days later, we visited Magnoberta (“Distilleria Magnoberta di Luparia Alberto & Figli sas”) in Casale Monferrato.

This was a last-minute visit, we were driving very close, so why not? This was not following my own advice, but I was feeling lucky. Roberta (in the fourth generation of Luparios to own and operate the distillery) was very kind and made time to show us their distillery. The distillery was in operation, and I got some video I’ll share later. When we returned to the tasting room, her father, Master Grappaiolo Alberto walked in. I couldn’t speak much with him as my Italian is very, very limited. I bought a bottle of “Grappa Historia 96 – Grappa di Brachetto” (Brachetto) because I really like the Brachetto grape, especially in Brachetto d’Aqui, a refreshingly light red frizzante wine. Magnoberta’s Grappa from this grape was refreshing as well, a very well done, accurate expression of the grape.

A day later, we visited Montanaro (“Distilleria Dottore Mario Montanaro”) in Grinzane Cavour.

Our guide Sarah greeted us warmly and showed us Montanaro’s very traditional equipment and operation. Their Grappaioli actually determine some parts of their process by how warm the equipment feels! In their bottling room I got to speak to one of their master blenders, Elsa, recreating a specific blend for a private label customer. I bought a bottle of their Barolo 2002 Grappa because Montanaro is actually in the Barolo region, and I really like their expression. I also got a sporty Grappa hat!

A day after that we returned (after our original visit in 2017) to Marolo (“Distilleria Santa Teresa dei Fratelli Marolo”) in Alba.

Most of our time was spent interviewing Lorenzo Marolo (watch for the video!). Lorenzo is so enthusiastic and dedicated to making high-end Grappa, the interview was a real treat. We did get a quick return visit to the distillery, and had a surprise visit from Paolo Marolo, the founder and Lorenzo’s Father (no, I didn’t call him Big Daddy…). We also got to witness vinacce being delivered from winemakers, ready to be made into Grappa. I bought a bottle of Grappa di Barolo “For Friends” 5 (Barolo). I have bought this Grappa at the distillery before. It has a unique flavor profile which matches perfectly to Key Lime Pie. I have promised to make/purchase one of these pies for Lorenzo on the occasion of his next visit to USA.

That same day (so much Grappa, so little time!) we visited close-by Sibona (“Distilleria Sibona”) in Piobesi d’Alba.

Peter (one of the Grappaioli) showed us around their distillery and aging warehouse. They have been in operation for over a hundred years and have the UTF (Excise Offices of the Italian Customs Administration) operating license #1, but is no longer owned or operated by the founding family. They are doing some creative things with barrel ageing. Riserva Grappas are available that have been aged in Madeira, Port, Sherry, Rum, and American Whiskey (Jack Daniels) barrels. This makes for some interesting comparative tasting. That said, I purchased a bottle of “La Grappa di Brachetto” (Brachetto) because of its purity of expression of the Brachetto grape.

After a couple days’ rest (right?) we visited Romano Levi (“Distilleria Romano Levi”) in Neive.

Romano Levi, and his series of Grappas named for “Donna Selvatica che scavalica le colline” (“Wild Woman who climbs over the hills”) are legend. His legacy has been continued by his apprentice (now Grappaiolo) Fabrizio, who welcomed us with a warm smile and insisted I learned some Italian from him. He runs the old, direct-fired (not Bain Marie) discontinuous still and has the same commitment to old-school Grappa as did Romano. While there I picked up a bottle of ‘Grappa of the “Wild Woman climbing over the hills” of Barolo’ (Nebbiolo). Neive is in Barolo country, so this was an easy choice, and quite tasty.

Later that day (here we go again…) we visited Gualco (“Distilleria Gualco”) in Silvano d’Orba.

We fought through road closures and slow traffic (mostly because of tractors taking harvest to winemakers) and I’m very glad we did. I got to meet Grappaiolo (master distiller) Alessandro, who gave us a tour of his distillery. Alessandro clearly loves his work and takes great pride in making Artisanal Grappa. I got to witness the delivery of Vinacce to his distillery and observe as he evaluated the quality of the Vinacce, and then agreed to accept it. This visibly demonstrated to me a concept I heard over and over again: “Quality Grappa comes from quality ingredients”. As with every Grappaiolo I met, Alessandro’s passion for high-end Grappa was evident. I bought “Grappa Rosina” (Dolcetto di Ovada) mostly because I liked it, but also because Alessandro recommended it. And the grapes were a DOC very local to Gualco.

One day later (by this time my liver was in Olympic training) we visited Berta (“Distillerie Berta”) in Mombaruzzo.

Because it was “Distillerie Aperte” day the distillery was crowded, our tour started out disjoint, rushed, and … less than satisfying. Our brilliant guide Valentina called in some reinforcements and our tour became much more informative and enjoyable. We saw Berta’s underground, hermetically sealed, temperature and humidity controlled aging cellars. Replete with recorded Opera music and dynamic LED lighting, it is always a highlight of a Berta tour. Because it was an all-hands-on-deck day (Grapperia Aperte), we got to meet Simonetta and Giulia Berta, respectively the current and future Matriarchs of Berta’s significant Grappa empire. I chose an old friend to take home, “TreSoliTre” (Nebbiolo) because it was my first high-quality Grappa, and still tasted great. You never forget your first time. You can read about my life-changing experience here.

So that’s the summary.

I’ll provide detailed posts subsequently, and videos. Make sure you sign up for my email list, those folks always get priority notification of goings on at The Grappa Guy. Here’s a convenient link so you can sign up now if you haven’t already.

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