No Spitting Allowed: Of Grappas And Grains

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 itthe 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)

The Hudson Valley's Tuthilltown Spirits, one of the leading lights of crafted American whiskies, is now part of the William Grant family of no-longer-free spirits — which is neither good nor bad in itself, but part of the business evolution that has long been part of the wine industry. Build a good new brand, and they will buy it.

More interesting, perhaps, are the decisions Tuthilltown takes in making its bourbon and rye. Artisan distillers can seldom win out against the international majors on price, so they have to either beat them at their own game or offer an attractive alternative. Tuthilltown has taken the latter approach, making fine whiskies that are more angular than the smoother traditional brands. For American whiskey drinkers, taking the first tastes of Tuthilltown Hudson brands may be similar to what blended scotch drinkers felt with their first sip of an Islay malt.

Hudson Manhattan Rye Whiskey. There is a nice marriage of aromas of grain and oak, and the flavors that follow are parallel, with a "sweet" whiskey approach and then a strong bite of oak and alcohol — perhaps too much so — in the end. The oak gives a freshness, rather than a roundness, and a spiciness almost like the juniper and other aromatics in gin. By the second sip, there is a strong and pleasant finish flavor of ground coffee.

Verdict: If you're weary of well-turned gentlemen, you may find this one a dashing rogue. (About $50/375 mL)


Hudson Baby Bourbon. Wet cracked corn and carbon in the nose (although the spirit is not charcoal filtered). There are also grain flavors, vodka or grappa-like alcohol hints, sweet taffy notes from the oak, and lots of various green conifer and garrigue tastes in the finish.

Verdict: This bourbon reminded me of the James Brown quote: "When you're tired of got, try me." (About $50/375 mL)