Drinking our way through Italy

The Colosseum in Rome from our hotel

It was June 2018, and we had zigzagged our way around the cobble stone streets of Rome, the hilly Tuscan towns of Pienza and Montepulciano, the picturesque seaside village of Lacco Ameno in Ischia, the ruins of Pompeii, and, finally, the chaotic city of Naples.

Continue reading “Drinking our way through Italy”

Tasting three European brandies: Hennessy VSOP, Vecchia Romagna and Asbach Urbrand

Brandy, the quintessential staple for booze loving grandmas the world over, is pretty cool in my book.

Growing up, brandy was used to disinfect my wounds and it was sprinkled on my socks to ward off the flu. It added kick to home-made tiramisu and flavoured my grandpa’s espresso. Continue reading “Tasting three European brandies: Hennessy VSOP, Vecchia Romagna and Asbach Urbrand”

La Paglierina grappa

La Paglierina

Rating: ★★★★

Recommendation: Buy it! 

Type: Grappa

Origin: Italy

ABV: 45%

Reaction: 😀

La Paglierina is grappa from Italy. In my opinion there is good grappa and there is bad grappa. Bad grappa, at least in my opinion, has a character that resembles distilled store bought wine. Many moonshiners and distillers are known to buy chardonnay, distill it to extract the alcohol from the wine, and then they call the product of the distillation “grappa”. This is not grappa. This is wine brandy. Grappa is made from distilling the leftovers of the wine making process, not the wine itself. That is, when making grappa, a distiller should distill fermented grape skins, pulp, seeds and stems (called “pomace”) rather than wine. Grappa is now a protected name in the European Union, and it must be: (1) produced in Italy; (2) made of pomace; and (3) water must not be added to the pomace. 

Below are my tasting notes of La Paglierina grappa. 

Eyes:

The colour is a pale chardonnay. The grappa clings to the sides of the glass when swirled, and forms thin legs that are unevenly dispersed – looking pretty good. Bravo.

Nose:

Grape bunchstems and seeds, being the aroma of the “pomace”, dominates the bouquet. This is accompanied by the smell of grapes, dried dates, sultana and crystalline sugars.   

Mouth:

Bellissimo! The flavor of grape seeds and grape bunchstems immediately hits the palate, with drying woody undertones and some astringency. The palate dries and then sweetens. The taste of whole dried figs then develops and lingers into a long finish.

Bottom Line:

La Paglierina is a simple and elegant grappa that offers a series of cascading flavours – from woody grape seeds and bunchtems, to a dryness, and then to a delicious dried fig. This is a lovely grappa. It is perfect as a digestive after a big heavy carb rich Italian meal.

Try it with it a platter of softer cheeses, such as brie, buffalo mozzarella or bocconcini, quince paste, dehydrated grapes, dried figs and dates. Be sure to talk unnecessarily loudly and with your hands, to enrich the Italian experience. 

Salute.

Puni Alba

Puni Alba

Rating: ★★

Type: Spirit

Origin: Italy

ABV: 43%

Reaction: 😦

Italy, the heartland of cheeky carb rich food and the pursuit of pleasure, is now scene to another one of life’s guilty pleasure’s – whisky. The Puni distillery in picturesque Glorenza  in northern Italy – with its rolling hills dotted along the countryside – is home to Italy’s very first malt whisky. The whisky itself is crafted in the Scottish tradition, but matured in Marsala casks from Sicily to give it an Italian edge. The first release by Puni distillery, in addition to a new make, is the Puni “Alba”.

“Alba” means sunrise in Italian, which is a suitable name considering that this spirit marks the birth of whisky production in Italy – a county that has mostly been known for grappa and brandy, not whisky. Puni Alba, which has matured for 18 months in Marsala and Pinot Noir casks, is not legally “whisky” because the spirit has matured in oak for less than three years.

As the below tasting notes indicate, Puni Alba is a young whisky that showcases the nagging punch of new make and Puni’s distillery character with only mild flickers of oak driven flavour. Do not expect a complex tapestry of oak, as the spirit is far too young for that. This is, it is clear to me, a work in progress and a glimpse into Puni’s whisky in its infancy. 

Nose:

As the whisky hits the base of the glass for the first time, it is clear this is a young whisky. The whiff of new make spirit is entangled with the smell of lady fingers, icing sugar, vanilla, caramel, honey, pepper, spiced rum, apricot crumble and sliced plums, and while it is clear the oak still has some more work to do this whisky’s bouquet is pleasant. This Italian single malt seems to follow a trend in some European whisky – whether from Denmark or France – to keep the whisky young but it is fascinating to experience the variation of character between these European whiskies; a variation which is emblematic not necessary of the oak that was used but more of the differences in distillery character. This single malt from the Puni distillery in Italy showcases an interesting malt profile which is fairly clean, light and fruity and it integrates nicely with the oak influence. There is a slight alcoholic burn, and some fly spray cutting through the center.

Taste:

While this spirit has an impressive nose for such a young bambino, on the palate the daggers come out with ruthless style. The taste of new make dominates at first, with hints of spice, sugary sweet malt, and fresh rosemary with lavender interlaced with vanilla sponge and just as the hint of Marsala begins to emerge it fades as quickly as it came.

Finish:

The finish offers spice and pepper, with lingering fresh rosemary and floral-herbal notes hovering over the sweetness of the malt. 

Bottom line:

Consider it, if you are itching to try an Italian (soon to be) “whisky” in its infancy which has been matured – albeit for 18 months – in ex-Marsala and ex-Pinot Noir casks. Puni Alba seems to need more time in oak to iron out some ripples in the new make and infuse it with some more complex flavour. The nose is complex, but on the palate the whisky is overridden with the overpowering taste of spirit and whatever oak driven flavours are present die out as quickly as they flicker into life.  I look forward to seeing how this young spirit matures in the years to come.