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  • Grappa

    What is Grappa?

    The word originates from the terms "grapo" or "graspa" which means "grape pomace" in some regions of north-western Italy. The first traces date back to 1451, in the will of a Piedmontese notary bequeathing a still and precious beverage to his descendants. As its name suggests, grappa is made by distilling grape pomace. The marc is all the residual matter (skins, pips and stalks) resulting from the pressing of the grapes (previously vinified or not). Grappa is therefore a marc brandy, the only brandy made from so-called "dry" raw materials.

    In theory, the process of making grappa is relatively simple: the marc is brought to the distillery and then heated in large vats called stills. The resulting vapours are then cooled to be harvested (condensation) before conditioning or refining. The practice, on the other hand, is a little different: grappa is a delicate and subtle brandy. The process, the tools but above all the distiller's know-how are crucial to succeed in delivering a high quality product.

    There are different kinds of grappa: from a single grape variety or from several, young or aged grappas, flavoured with herbs or spices or not. In addition, the pomace can come from simple pressing or from the winemaking process. The latter category produces softer grappas with more intense aromas.

    Finally, grappa must be distinguished from other types of spirits such as brandy or aquavit. In Italy, aquavit is a generic term that may simply mean "brandy", i.e. a strong alcohol made from the distillate of different raw materials: fruit, cereals, etc... However, in some Scandinavian countries, aquavit refers to a brandy flavoured with various spices: caraway, aniseed, cinnamon, etc... Some traditional brandies have well-known names: whisky (grain brandy); rum (sugar cane brandy); vodka (potato brandy). Brandy, Cognac or Armagnac, depending on its origin, is a brandy made from the distillation of wine, a liquid substance and not from marc (dry matter) and is sometimes confused with grappa.

    How is grappa made?

    According to the great distillers, the secret of a good grappa is not complicated: "it is enough to have a top quality marc and a hundred years of experience. "This sentence alone sums up the artisanal and exclusive character of great grappas, where know-how is a crucial element. However, the quality of the products as well as the heating and grinding processes (of the vapours) also contribute to the final result.

    The experience of the distiller will make the difference during the heating process, but also during the selection of the distillates (from the condensation). Indeed, when the pomace is heated, the distiller will adjust very precisely the parameters (temperature, heating time, liquid) in order to get the best out of each pomace, which turns out to be different according to its origin, grape variety, etc... Moreover, during the distillation, the vapours emitted must be carefully selected according to their order of appearance. In fact, not all the compounds contained in the pomace evaporate at the same time because they have different boiling points and degrees of volatility. The best parts of the distillation process are in the middle of the process (also called the heating core). This is where the most flavourful and subtle aromas and compounds are concentrated, while those produced at the beginning (top) and end (tail) of the cycle are usually discarded or re-distilled. It is the distiller and his experience that, by smelling and tasting the distillate, will identify when to separate the good grain from the chaff.

    But not all stills work the same way. In terms of heating processes, two systems can be distinguished: distillers operating continuously (mainly used on an industrial scale) and distillers operating discontinuously (i.e. in cycles). The latter, which is more traditional and mainly used by artisans, involves emptying and cleaning the cauldrons after each heating cycle, which lasts about 3 hours. This allows a more precise control over the heated and harvested materials, but also involves more work and time compared to industrial distillers, which run continuously. In addition, the artisans work with cauldrons that are several decades old. According to them, each still has its own history, its own character, qualities and defects. Legend has it that the older the still, the better the brandy.

    Amber grappa: what does the wood bring?

    There are several kinds of grappa. They can be white or amber, flavoured or not... Indeed, grappas can be more or less aged, refined in wooden barrels or not, and these actions will influence its colour and especially its taste.

    At the exit of the still, the young grappa "Giovane" goes through a vat (stainless steel or glass) before being bottled. It is usually white (transparent) and has purity, important vigour and delicate fruitiness.

    However, grappas can also be aged and matured, particularly in barrels. In contact with the air circulating between the pores of the wood (micro-oxygenation), the grappa will slowly oxidize. This slow evolution will allow the alcohol to soften and the fruit aromas to intensify. The grappa then takes on a colour ranging from golden yellow to amber, depending on the type of wood and the length of ageing. The secret of a good ageing process: as the seasons change, the temperature changes, the aromas become concentrated (winter) and the ethers and other strongest alcohols dissipate (summer). Consequently, one of the disadvantages of maturing in wood is that a large part of the alcohol evaporates through the walls of the barrel, which is called "the angels' share". In terms of classification, there are several categories of aged grappas, the main ones being: "Affinata", which refers to a Grappa that has been aged for at least 12 months in the barrel and "Invecchiate" which has spent 12 to 18 months in the barrel. As for the "Stravecchia" or "Riserva" versions, their stay in wood exceeds 18 months.

    When and how to taste grappa?

    Usually, grappa is tasted after the meal. A Giovane Grappa can be enjoyed at a temperature between 8 and 10 degrees Celsius. Affinata and higher grappas can be enjoyed at around 15 degrees.

    In terms of tasting, the "tulip" glasses allow the aromas not to disperse, but also, by creating a little distance between the nose and the liquid, do not let the alcohol cover the most delicate flavours.

    Have you ever tasted a Panettone à la Grappa?

    You should know that in recent years some producers have started to produce Panettone with a heart of Grappa cream. The Poli distiller produces one of the most sought-after panettone during the festive season, the famous Grappolone.

  • Armagnac

    What is Armagnac?

    Armagnac is a high quality wine brandy which has the particularity of ageing well and being marked by the specificities of its year of production. In order to finish your meals in a climax or to offer you moments on your own or with others, the alfavin.ch online shop also offers you a selection of these fine drinks from a wide range of vintages. Whether it is to commemorate the year of birth of a child or a loved one or to celebrate a jubilee, offering an Armagnac is an ideal prestigious gift to immortalize time.

    Generalities about Armagnac

    Armagnac is an alcohol produced by the distillation of dry white wine produced expressly for this purpose. Of the 11'000 ha of the region's vineyards, 2'000 ha are devoted to the production of Armagnac. It owes its name to the former name of the province in which it is produced. Situated mainly in Gers, but also in Landes and Lot-et-Garone, in what could be called the vineyard of the South-West, it is today divided into three sub-regions: bas-armagnac, armagnac-ténarèze and haut-armagnac. We distinguish the bas- from the haut- depending on whether we are located further downstream (in the east) than upstream (in the west). The tenarèze region represents the central region. However, each of these sub-regions has distinct specifications which offer subtle differentiations in the finished product.

    History of Armagnac

    Historically the province of Armagnac would take its name from a former Frankish soldier, Herreman, who was raised to the rank of Lord by Clovis. His name was transformed into Latin by Arminius, which with time and local dialect eventually became Armagnac.

    Although it is difficult to date exactly the beginning of wine-growing and the appearance of distillation methods in the region, it is nevertheless attested that a sale of brandy took place in 1461. What is more certain is that the technique for making Armagnac was imposed by regional and contextual conditions of markets and transport.

    Indeed, in the 17th century the wine market was dominated by the virtual supremacy of Bordeaux, its rich owners and merchants. Thanks to their access to the sea, they enjoyed definite advantages over exports. Wines produced further upstream on the Garonne River travelled poorly and were expensive to transport, making them uncompetitive. By producing a brandy from these wines, the merchants reduced the volume to be transported, thus reducing costs, while increasing its capacity for conservation without loss of quality. One must also imagine that at the time Armagnac would
    very well be consumed, cut with water and flavoured.

    The making of Armagnac

    Armagnac is produced by distillation of wine. The four main grape varieties used in its composition are ugni blanc, baco blanc, colombard and folle blanche. More occasionally, Plant de Graisse, Jurançon Blanc, Mauzac, Mauzac Rosé and Meslier Saint-François are also authorised. The harvest already takes place in September, although particularly high yields of 120 to 160 hl per hectare are allowed.

    The grapes vinified in white are low in alcohol (about 10% vol.) and have a high acidity.

    The wines are then distilled according to a special technique. Distillation, which is based on the principle that the boiling point of alcohol (78°C) is lower than that of water, makes it possible, by heating the wine, to extract its alcohol and its aromas! The specificity of the Armagnac still includes the presence of trays. The wine is introduced from the bottom of the vat and is gradually heated until it overflows from the main vase. The wine then falls back into successive trays, continuing to heat up, all the way to the bottom of the vat. The alcohol evaporating progressively captures the aromas of the different levels of wine it passes through during its ascent! This process thus produces a colourless brandy at around 60% vol.

    Ageing in barrels is essential and obligatory to bear the name Armagnac. This process, in addition to giving it its amber colour and contributing to the complexification of its aromatic palette, allows the reduction of the alcohol content to around 40% vol. The alcohol will in fact evaporate gradually through the wood. This stage can thus take several years.

    After this stage, the Armagnac stops ageing and must be stored in neutral containers. From an aromatic point of view, from this stage onwards, only a slight oxidation will modify its taste over the years.

    How to drink Armagnac?

    Armagnac is best enjoyed in balloon or tulip-shaped glasses that concentrate the aromas. A young Armagnac can be enjoyed as a cocktail, or it can also be used in cooking to spice up a sauce, to flare up poultry or in dessert recipes.
    To accompany a meal, old vintages are preferred. But we should not forget that Armagnac and its digestive virtues will also be appreciated at the end of a meal.

    What is the difference between Cognac and Armagnac?

    The big difference between Cognac and Armagnac lies in the distillation process. The Charentais still for Cognac works on the principle of double distillation and allows to obtain an alcohol level of about 70-71 degrees. The continuous Armagnac still produces an alcohol level of about 60 degrees. The other main differences lie in the terroir and the grape varieties.

    The Cognac is made from almost 100% Ugni Blanc on a predominantly limestone soil.

    The Armagnac, as mentioned above, comes from three distinct areas with rather clay-limestone soils. It is produced with the grape varieties ugni blanc, baco blanc, colombard and folle blanche.

    Products

    Armagnacs are classified according to the length of their ageing period, namely: 1 year for the VS (***), 4 years for the VSOP, 6 years for the XO (Napoleon), 10 years for the hors d'âge and 20 years for the XO premium.

    Armagnac is generally produced from blends of several grape varieties and several vintages. If this is not the case, the mention of the grape variety or vintage will be present on the label.

    Alfavin.ch thus offers you high quality vintage products from the estate of Castarède Bas-Armagnac, a family business founded in 1832 and which has since established itself as world class!

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