Think of grapes and you think of all the nice things - good wines, bowls of fresh fruit, tangy vinegars and luscious juice. But there is one part of the humble grape that is ignored and that's its skin.
This is a pity, really, because most of the flavour of a grape is in its skin, which is why many wines are left in contact with the skins for maximum flavour extraction. More often than not, these skins are then disposed of, but perhaps more winemakers could take a leaf out of Italy's book.
Grappa is a reasonably well-known spirit, but is often cruelly misunderstood. Many lump it in with rough brandies or fiery neutral spirits instead of appreciating it for what it really is - a great drink.
Grappa is not really brandy. Brandy is fermented wine, whereas grappa is made by distilling grape skins, usually left over from winemaking. This makes it the only drink distilled from solids rather than from some form of liquid.
It also makes it an incredibly concentrated, complex spirit, offering such variety that it's hard to comprehend the scope of flavours. Grappa can be made from any one of 300 grape varieties, each with their own unique characteristics.
These 300 potential grappas can then be aged in oak barrels of varying age, size, toast and tannin levels, giving an almost endless variety.
The main problem with grappa is finding it. The most common varieties I've come across here are from the Francoli distillery in northwest Italy and they are incredibly good. Their high-end grappas are the equivalent of Cognac, single malt or aged rum, with rich, smooth complexity and unique flavours, depending upon the grapes involved.
Grappa is also a fine digestif, going down very well after a meal. It can cut through any cloying sweetness left over from dessert and calm the rumbling remnants of the roast dinner. It's also a very fine drink to enjoy at the end of the day, when you've done all you have to do and it's time for a little reward.
So remember, just because it comes from a grape doesn't mean it has to be wine. Salut.