This year I’ve dabbled a little into the low ABV scale of the drinks world, due mainly in part to Mal Spence, owner of the Kelvingrove Cafe in Glasgow. He partnered with Emporia Brands, a UK distribution company, to promote their range of Italian products, primarily from the Nardini family, to bartenders and have them take a deeper look into the use of these classic liquids within drink recipes. Going off this, I wanted to feature the Nardini range and take a look at both the grappa and aperitivo expressions they have available. So lets dive in!
It all begins with Bortolo Nardini, founder of what is now Italy’s oldest distillery way back in 1779. It is here at the entrance to the Bassano bridge on the river Brenta that he opened his distillery and grapperia. Nardini was already skilled in the art of distillation, but his new venture was a far cry from his home town of Segonzano in the Cembra Valley near Trento. Here at the Bassano bridge, it was, like it still is now, a meeting place for Bassano natives and everyone who crossed what is described as the ‘most famous patriotic bridge in Italy’.
Looking ahead, Bortolo Nardini, grandson of Bortolo, introduced steam distillation in 1860, replacing the direct flame technique used from the beginning. Between 1915 and 1918, the First World War was taking effect on the area, becoming a battleground for soldiers. However the grappa distillery of Nardini saw its popularity rise as the soldiers took to the liquid to warm them on the cold evenings in the trenches. Once the war ended, the ritual of a sip of grappa carried on. The Second World War would be different however, as the frequent requisitioning of grappa by the armed forces and the complete destruction of the Bassano bridge by the Germans as they retreated affected the distillery and its production. After the war, the Alpini soldiers rebuilt the bridge financed entirely by private funds and re-opened on October 3rd 1948, by Alcide De Gasperi, and christened with a bottle of Nardini for good luck.
With the war over, the 1950’s saw a change in attitude towards spirits. Gone were the sweet liquids, to be replaced by drier tipples such as grappa. Nardini took full advantage and created new markets within Italy and abroad. Nardini also introduced ageing of grappa in oak barrels, to positive acclaim within the market. In 1964, vacuum distillation was installed within the distillery and in 1981 a new bottling centre was built. In 1991, Nardini purchased and refurbished the distillery of Monastier, near Treviso, where a substantial part of the distillation now takes place to satisfy the growing demand.
So with two distilleries, both located in the Veneto region, they both offer a different side to the Nardini family. Both sites use fresh grape pomace (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Bianco and Tokay) that is carefully selected and sourced from the foothills of north Veneto and Friuli. After a resting period in silos, the fermentation process begins. From here, it is transported to both distilleries.
The original Bassano distillery use the traditional vacuum distillation method in a discontinuous cycle. Here, within cauldrons, steam flows through the fermented grape pomace and up through the distillation column. Once the ‘heart’ of the spirit is selected, it passes through rectification and condensation phases.
The Monastier distillery on the other hand is a little different. The distillation method is a continuous steam cycle where the pomace is placed in a dealcolizer through which vapor passes for the extraction of the alcoholic content. This then flows to the distillation column where the ‘heart’ of the liquid is chosen, then passes on to the rectification and condensation phases.
So let’s get stuck into the finished products! Below, I give to you my tasting notes –
Nardini Aquavite di Vinnaccia Bianca Grappa – 50%
As mentioned, obtained by the process of double distillation and cold filtering using the pomace of grapes harvested in the Veneto foothills and Friuli regions of Italy.
Soft grape aromas on the nose, fragrant with hints of marzipan. Sharp and intense upon the palate, with a fresh kick of fragrant grape flavours once swallowed. The high abv contributes to a medium to long finish that becomes a little dry.
Nardini Grappa 40 – 40%
A lower abv variation of the above classic grappa expression. Bolder aromas of the grapes compared to the 50% abv style on the nose. Sweeter on the palate, and lacks the sharpness from the classic. Smooth, with hints of dry spice and raw herb. Long finish.
Nardini Aquavite di Vinnaccia Riserva Grappa – 50%
Aged for a minimum of three years in Slavonian oak barrels. Fragrant on the nose with subtle smooth aromas of the pommace. A developing strength of thin grape flavours on the palate, with plenty of dry oak taming the palate for a well-rounded finish.
Nardini Grappa Riserva 40 – 40%
A lower abv variation of the above Riserva grappa expression. Very light on the nose, with delicate hints of the grapes coming through. Incredibly smooth on the palate, thin, with definite soft oak to offer a long finish.
Nardini Aquavite di Vinnaccia Riserva 15 Anni Grappa – 50%
Released in 2004 to celebrate 225 years of the company’s history. An exclusive product obtained by aging in Salvonian oak barrels for 15 years.
Soft wood with citrus and grape aromas blending on the nose. Dry oak on the palate, with tobacco and cocoa developing to a soft and incredibly long finish.
Nardini Aquavite di Vinnaccia Ruta Flavoured Grappa – 43%
Created using an antique recipe of infusion. Aquavite grape pomace grappa combines with branches of the rue plant that are infused within rue flavoured grappa for an unknown length of time.
Soft, light herbal notes from the rue plant on the nose. Intense upon the palate, with a dry and slightly bitter experience developing as it nears the lingering finish.
It’s not just grappa that the Nardini family are famous for though, a selection of aperitivo’s are also wildly acclaimed.
Nardini Ginepro del Grappa – 45%
Created from distilled dehydrated juniper berries. Plenty of fresh, fragrant, intense juniper berry aromas on the nose. Incredibly sweet upon the palate, velvet texture with the high abv creating a delicate juniper finish. Lingering.
Nardini Acqua di Cedro – 29%
Traditional citron based liqueur. Fragrant, sweet citrus notes on the nose. Thick, creamy texture on the palate, with plenty of fresh, ripe, zesty lemon flavours coming through. A sweet, long finish with a slight raw citrus feel.
Nardini alla Mandorla – 50%
Natural infusion of bitter almond with Aquavite di Vinaccia combined with a cherry distillate. A good blend of dry almond and stalked cherry on the nose. Developing warmth on the palate, with the almond flavours dominating. The cherry comes through on the slightly sweet finish, but ultimately both main flavours contribute to a dry, lingering finish.
Nardini Tagliatella – 35%
“La Tagliatella” is a registered trademark by Nardini, creating a fruity liqueur with an Aquavite di vinaccia grappa base. Lots of cherry and red berry aromas on the nose. Slightly herbal, but a well-balanced approach. Thin, with a constant switch between sweet and dry from the dominating stewed cherry flavour on the palate. A growing dry spice on the long finish.
Nardini Bitter – 24%
Obtained by a mix of herbs and citrus, effectively grain alcohol and natural aroma of bitter Milano. Incredibly rich on the nose with plenty of forest floor mixed with vegetal and citrus aromas. Surprisingly mellow on the palate, with sweeter notes coming through, followed by bitter lemon and a clean finish of herbs.
Nardini Rosso – 24%
A combination of grain alcohol, natural aroma of bitter Milano and vermouth. Light with lots of subtle fresh lemon aromas, with a slight herbal note near the finish. Very light on the palate, with a thin sweetness. Herbal notes come through again on the lingering finish.
Nardini Rabarbaro – 19%
Grain alcohol with essence of rhubarb rhizome. Incredibly bold, rich notes of vegetal and rhubarb on the nose. Thin, with slight vegetal flavours coming through on the palate. Sweeter as it grows, with rhubarb bitterness making it an aromatic finish.
Nardini Amaro – 31%
Grain alcohol with bitter orange aroma, peppermint and gentian. Well balanced upon the nose with mint, liquorice and orange aromas coming through. Fresh, sweet flavours of peppermint and orange are present on the palate. A lingering bitterness on the finish.
A fantastic selection here, with suggested serves including the Rabarbaro mixed with soda water and a lemon peel, or the Acqua di Cedro over ice cream, fresh fruit or as a sorbet. Or perhaps one of these –
Rocks or Champagne flute
35 ml Nardini Bianca
50 ml Freshly squeezed orange juice
60 ml Prosecco
Pour the grappa and orange juice into a shaker with ice and mix. Strain into a Champagne flute or rocks glass, top up with chilled Prosecco and stir gently.
Or maybe this from Mal Spence’s archives –
40 ml Nardini Amaro
20 ml Rum
Dash Sugar Syrup
Combine all the ingredients over an ice filled rocks glass and stir.
I’ve been lucky enough to try a lot of the range, but there are one or two that have escaped me so far, including the highest abv expressions of 60% for both the original and Riserva, plus the brandy variation. But if you ever would like to go for something a little different, or indeed enjoy the tipples on the lower end of the ABV scale, grab yourselves some bottles for your drinks cabinet and imagine you’re in Italy!
© David Marsland and Drinks Enthusiast 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog/sites author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to David Marsland and Drinks Enthusiast with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.