Grappa and other spirits are probably the "close relatives" of the oldest spirits discovered so far. The historical finds speak of a certain "aqueous water", described by Marius Graecus in the VIII century; this drink was prepared by distilling the wine itself and already in the XVIII century it acquired the name "acqua vitae" (for pharmacological use).
Grappa is a typical Italian drink; the legislation defines grappa as a: " Italian or Sanmarinese distillate, made from the pomace of grapes produced and vinified ONLY in the same geographical areas ". Similar beverages, but obtained regardless of the aforementioned standards, CANNOT be called "grappa".
From the product point of view, grappa is a particular type of brandy made with VINACCIA. This clarification is extremely important, as distillation can be applied to many other raw materials; for example: fermented potatoes, wheat and other fermented cereals, fermented sugar cane, fermented must, wine, etc.
Recall that grappa can be obtained by distillation from 3 different types of pomace:
- fermented marc of red wine
- semi-fermented pomace for rosé wine
- unfermented marcs for the vinification in white from red grapes (made by quickly removing the marc from the must, called dripping ).
In the last two cases, the pomace is further fermented to obtain a certain alcohol content and organoleptic characteristics that are otherwise insufficient or inappropriate.
Grappa is therefore obtained ONLY from the distillation of fermented marc; by disambiguation, we specify that there are apparently similar products but, from a product point of view, very different. This is the case with grape brandy (obtained by distillation of the must) and brandy, cognac, etc. (obtained by distilling the wine).
Why, and in what way, are red or mixed marcs for rosé wine used, and red ones drained for white wine in grappa production?
Because grappa is an alcoholic product obtained from the reuse of wine processing waste. However, to obtain a grappa with the RIGHT organoleptic and gustatory characteristics, it is necessary that certain molecules typical of the skins of red grapes are present. Well, many people do not know that rosé wine can be obtained either from a mixture of white and red grapes, or exclusively red grapes. The latter are responsible for the pigmentation of the must if they are left to macerate together with the pressed juice; in white wine, on the other hand, they are immediately removed by draining. Ultimately, for rosé wine with red grapes, the coloring is proportional to the "infusion" time of the skins together with the juice, while for that obtained from mixed grapes, these are appropriately dosed in proportion to the white ones and left to macerate until last with the pressing liquid. It is therefore logical that the "waste" red marcs of rosé vinification can only be partially fermented, while those of white vinification are totally "virgin".
Finally, remember that the refinement of grappa also derives from two other very important factors, namely the presence (or the possible quantity) of their stalks or residues, and the presence (or the possible quantity) of grapeseed. These woody portions, in particular in the case of stalks, are responsible for an unpleasant organoleptic structure; with regard to grape seeds, instead, their use seems less incisive.
Having said this, it is curious to note that the term "grappa" derives from the noun "graspa", in turn distorted by the name "graspo", which represents precisely the undesirable portion both in winemaking and in the distillation of grappa. It is conceivable that in the typical areas of origin (Trentino Alto Adige, Friuli Venezia Giulia and Veneto), for "graspa" it is NOT meant the wood waste of the bunch, but the bunch itself.
Grappa is produced through a series of consecutive operations, irreplaceable and non-invertible, ranging from ensiling to bottling.
Figure taken from: "Grappa Distillation" - University of Milan - Educational and Research Center of Crema
The first step in the production of grappa is the ensiling of the marc; these, already pressed after separation from the must, are stored inside a cement or iron silo (coated in resin) or in a wooden vat, in which they are further pressed (to eliminate air pockets) and covered with plastic sheets.
This is followed by distillation, which is the most important phase, which allows to separate the volatile components (of which the most important are water and alcohol). These, made to evaporate with heat, are selected and condensed separately with the cold. Since the alcohol evaporates at a temperature of 78.4 ° C and water at 100 ° C, the condensed liquid will certainly contain more alcohol than water. However, a mixture of 95% alcohol and 5% water boils sooner than one of alcohol alone, which is why it is NOT possible to obtain an alcohol content above 95% alcohol by distillation. In this phase, with the use of a dephlegmator (cooling system at the top of the distiller), the alcohol vapors are concentrated to the maximum before condensation to reduce the number of total distillations. In this way it is possible to exploit the greater capacity of condensation of the water (then removed) to purify the vapors of the boiler.
A further step is rectification, that is the process that allows to keep the valuable components and eliminate (or reduce to the right point) the unwanted and / or harmful ones. In the production of artisanal grappa it is said that the head, the body and the tail are divided; the head is composed of volatile substances that boil before ethyl alcohol, the body or heart is formed by molecules that evaporate between 78.4 ° C and 100 ° C, the tail contains the volatile compounds released above 100 ° C.
In the case in which the alcohol content of the grappa (generally between 50-60 ° C) is excessive for the purpose (for example consumption without aging), it can be subjected to the reduction of the alcoholic degree by adding distilled water. This can be an advantage for the stability of the drink over time, due to the percentage reduction of degradable molecules such as fatty acids and their esters with alcohols.
Then the refrigeration takes place, which serves to solubilize the unwanted phlegm oils. This is carried out at a temperature of -10 or -20 ° C for 48 hours, through a subsequent filtration in septa which retain the non-solubilized oils.
Further filtration is applied with paper or pressure filters, eliminating the precipitated flocculi or other unwanted substances.
Aging also occurs for most grappas, which are applied in wooden drums NOT waterproofed for a short period (6-12 months, containers of up to 6, 000 liters) or long (5-15 years, containers of up to 700 liters) . The rooms assigned are at a temperature of 20-25 ° C and humidity below 70%.
Finally, after a verification of the specific characteristics, the grappa is bottled in glass containers having capacities from 3 centiliters to 2 liters.
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Nutritional properties and health aspects of grappa
Grappa is a drink that can be classified among spirits. Being distilled, it does not have the few nutritional advantages of fermented beverages (in particular wine), such as the antioxidant content. At the same time, the intake of ethyl alcohol is very high and requires extremely low consumption. To give some examples, if it is true that alcohol consumption should be limited to around 1 or 2 daily alcoholic units, we could say that this limit would be easily reached with: 1-2 glasses of 125ml of wine, or 1-2 bottles of 330ml of simple blond beer, or 1-2 small glasses of 30ml of grappa.
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Grappa is therefore a mere alcohol source, as it does not show considerable amounts of vitamins, mineral salts or antioxidants of any kind.
We also remind you that the abuse of grappa (as with ANY other spirits) involves not a few negative effects. Among these, we recall:
- overweight (due to the transformation of alcohol into fatty acids and to the insulin-stimulating effect of alcohol itself);
- gastro-oesophageal disorders (burning, reflux, gastritis and predisposition to more serious pathologies);
- malnutrition (due to alteration of intestinal absorption and tendency to diarrhea with inflammation of the mucosa);
- hepatic toxicity (predisposition to fatty steatosis and cirrhosis);
- systemic toxicity (especially on the nervous system, but there are also negative effects on other organs such as the pancreas, kidneys, prostate, etc.);
- predisposition to various types of cancer.
Finally, it could be useful to learn that alcohol can give rise to undesirable drug interactions. Some are:
- of potentiation of the effect of ethanol itself (as happens for different sedatives, hypnotics, anticonvulsants, antidepressants, anxiolytics, opiate analgesics);
- increased activity or concentration in the blood of drugs (sedatives, hypnotics, narcotics, antidepressants, anxiolytics, analgesics, barbiturates, antipsychotics);
- decreased activity or concentration in the blood of drugs (oral contraceptives, anticoagulants, antibiotics such as tetraicline or quinolones);
- drug level instability in the blood (neuroleptic antipsychotics, anticonvulsants, oral hypoglycemic agents);
- possibility of toxic effects (paracetamol, acetylsalicylic acid, oral hypoglycemic agents, antibiotics, sulfonamides, some antifungals).