When I first tasted marc — the French version of grappa — years ago on the Champs-Elysées, I immediately fell in the love with these often rough-hewn brandies made from the leftovers of wine grapes or pomace after they have been pressed. Historically, grape growers, in Italy particularly, would distill their own grappa, too often with éclat of the same nature as American hillbillies who crafted moonshine.
But it doesn’t have to be the way. Many winemakers in northern Italy have long produced elegant and complex grappas, and recently, I came across three from Luigi Francoli that you should try before you permanently swear off this “dregful” spirit.
Francoli Grappa di Moscato. Woodsy and floral aromas (an unusual combination) with a complex and very broad array of flavors — dry spices, lots of white pepper, and anise that is more dry than sweet.
Verdict: The aromas are so enticing you may never get around to drinking any of it — the everlasting bottle! ($25/375 mL)
Luigi Francoli Grappa di Nebbiolo. This one has been aged in barrels for five years, a coddling that grappas seldom get. Lots of dried flowers on the nose, with flavors of very spicy peppermint, dried fruits, and orange peel in addition to the anise.
Verdict: A stunner, one that shows beauty often improves with age. ($25/375 mL)
Luigi Francoli Grappa di Riesling. Like the other two, the riesling has the same peppery flavors and light touch of anise. But it has been aged in a barrique, or barrel, and has some of the oak and cracked grain notes that you normally get in whiskies.
Verdict: In the riesling family, this one would be the enforcer who wipes out wine critics such as me who consider the grape too often just a pretty afterthought. ($25/375 mL)