The major difference is the base material. Most Grappa is made from a variety of grapes, whatever was left over from the winemaking processes from an equal variety of wineries. That makes for good Grappa but since it’s all mixed up you tend to get a more general flavor of grapes but no single grape, single distiller, or single distilling process.
The really exquisite, and more expensive, Grappas are almost all made from a single grape so the first thing to look out for when you’re searching for a life changer is a single grape distillate.
Nonino rocked the Grappa world back in 1973 when they released the first single grape Grappa made from the Picolit grape. That just wasn’t done at the time exactly because it was looked upon as a simple peasant drink.
Since Grappa was originally a Northern Italian spirit most of the single grape Grappas are made from grapes cultivated north of the Po River like the aforementioned Picolit, Ribolla Gialla, Moscato, and Merlot. Since then distillers have discovered that there’s gold in that there Grappa distilled from a single grape because it brings the same distinct flavors from the wine that would be made from it to the Grappa.
Aged GrappasThese tend to soften considerably with the amount of time they spend in the barrel so one aged for years will bear very little resemblance to that white lightning most of us associate with Grappa. They pick up delicate fruit and nutty notes just like any other aged spirit.
Small batches and singular namesThis is trickier to figure out from a simple label but if you can find bottles with distiller names on them and that claim that they’re the process of small batch distillations you stand a good chance for finding something unique that will express the long experience and sensibility of one person.
What’s the difference between industrial and craft Grappa?There is literally, a world of difference. Small craft producers like Nonino and Poli distill their Grappa in tiny batches that are painstakingly managed. The grapes are all sourced from small producers and the entire creation process is designed to bring out the full flavor of the grapes.
Larger, more industrial producers, like Nardini are generally blending a variety of grapes into a single flavor set so the scents and flavor notes tend to be less distinct. Still good, especially for a quick pick me up or a swig at the top of the slopes!