Grappa is usually very high proof, above 40%, and has a somewhat justified reputation as firewater because, you know, it’s really alcoholic.
But it also has a soft and subtle side that craft distillers pull from even the ugliest purple mashes leftover from the winery. These are still very high proof but they exalt the flavors in the grapes.
Unlike aggressively name controlled wines like Champagne or spirits like Tequila or Mezcal, Grappa can also be made in the United States where many winemakers and distillers are finding great success.
There is even a famous painting by Millet called The Gleaners depicting French peasants picking stray grains of wheat from fields just after the harvest.
Yes, it was incredibly hard to eat as a peasant so they learned to make food from everything.
They did except they added a little step to the process.
Instead of dumping all that pressed grape matter called ‘grape must’ or ‘pomace’ directly to the fields or farm animals they figured out that they could take it home, ferment it, and run the resulting liquid through a distiller to create a high proof alcoholic beverage that made the winters, long days in the field, and poverty in general more bearable. Then they dumped the leftovers in the field or trough. That’s Grappa.
Sure, you expect me to believe that Grappa is still made this way?
Some Grappas like Nonino or Poli, to name just two, are exquisite and are priced accordingly. Others like Nardini are great and much more affordable.
So there you go, the origin myth dates Grappa back to the Romans. Empirically we can’t back that far, it seems far more likely that Grappa was one of many spirits that emerged from Europe’s middle ages after alembics came from the Muslim world.