Nardini, Italy’s oldest distillery, is launching an ultra-premium grappa range aimed at setting a new quality threshold for the country’s national spirit. Called ‘Selezione Bortolo Nardini’ in honour of the distiller who founded the family-owned brand in 1779, the new line includes an elegant ‘Bianca Extrafina’ and ‘Le Ramate’ – three extraordinary barrel-aged Riserva products.
All four drinks are blended from Merlot, Cabernet and Pinot Grigio grape pomaces selected from local DOC winemakers and distilled using Nardini’s distinct combination of pot still and column still techniques. Conceived to rank alongside the best spirits in the high-end digestive market sector, they are presented in stunning 70cl cut-glass bottle designs, inspired by Nardini’s futuristic Fuksas-designed ‘BOLLE’ building in Bassano del Grappa, Veneto.
The ‘Selezione Bortolo Nardini’ is the splendid result of a 20-year labour-of-love led by the Nardini Family alongside Master Blender Renato Mazzeracca and Andrea Manzoli, who directs operations the two Nardini distilleries in Bassano and Monastier. Consequently, as the international spirits authority David Broom observed in his pre-launch evaluation, all four grappas are ‘unmistakably Nardini’, showing clear family resemblances with the firm’s legendary Bianca and Riserva staples. However, they display ‘a wider, fresher, more tantalising aromatic spectrum’.
Rested in steel tanks for six months before blending and then rested for another six months before undergoing a further selection process, the 42% abv ‘Extrafina’ is floral and very fruity, with herbal elements and a nuanced complexity amplified with notes of banana, maraschino and ‘proving bread’. As Dave Broom confirms, ‘there is something both ancient in its aromatics and something entirely new’. The three ‘Le Ramate’ products are equally remarkable. Following the initial one year resting in steel, all three are aged in barrels sourced from the same oak forest in Slavonia (Croatia) that has been used by Nardini since it became the first-ever distiller to market aged grappa some 70 years ago. However, only the smoothest and sweetest batches from these barrels are ear-marked for the Le Ramate range.
The 42% abv Three-Year-Old Riserva is coherent, complex and refined, showing a clear sweetness as well as the ‘cooked fruit’ characteristics that have made Nardini’s core 40% and 50% Riserva products so popular, especially in export markets. At 45% abv, the Seven-Year-Old Riserva is more extravagant and spicy, but equally complex and Dave Broom has noted similarities with Cognac and even aged Genever. Not surprisingly, the 15-Year-Old Riserva is more wooded, but it’s also drier, with hints of creamy vanilla, chocolate, nuts and wild fruits – a superbly balanced drink. As Dave Broom concludes, ‘like the rest of the range, it does, I believe, offer a new dimension for grappa, one which stays true to its roots, but aligns it more closely with top-end wood-aged spirits – and as a result opens up the possibilities of new serves and occasions.’
Antonio Nardini, Managing Director of the seventh-generation family owned company believes the new ‘Selezione Bortolo Nardini’ is a major milestone for grappa and not just for Nardini. “As Italy’s oldest distiller and the country’s leading premium grappa brand, we are obliged to innovate rather than stand still. Since we only produce for ourselves and never for third parties, we apply much stricter criteria to the quality of the raw materials we use and the production techniques we employ.” Adds Nardini: “With the new range we have demonstrated our ability to produce elegant, exquisite distillates – and I am confident that we have set a new standard for grappa that will not only astonish many people, but lead to a greater appreciation for Italy’s national spirit amongst the most discerning drinkers in the world.”
In the UK, ‘Selezione Bortolo Nardini’ will be available initially to the on-trade from Speciality Drinks with on-line availability from The Whisky Exchange, The Drink Shop and Master of Malt. Hedonism Wines in Mayfair is the range’s opening retail outlet in London, while in the North-West, it is being showcased at the award-winning Riddles Emporium in Altrincham, South Manchester. UK Distributor is Emporia Brands. The agent for the UK and Ireland is Nick Hopewell-Smith Associates Ltd. Products in the range are likely to retail at between £55 and £125. Nardini’s 50% ABV Grappa Bianca is by some way Italy’s best-selling premium grappa. In the UK, the more accessible Bianca 40 and Riserva 40 are listed as house pours in many leading outlets, including the Polpo chain and across the Soho House estate. In 2017, sales of Nardini products in the UK grew by 40% compared to the previous twelve months.
Background Note: The Best Grappa Demands Pomace Excellence
The quality of any grappa is largely dictated by the quality of the raw material used to make it – the pomace (the skins, seeds and pulp that remains after grapes are pressed for winemaking). In the ‘Selezione Bortolo’ range, the pomace is derived from a balanced selection of grape types rather than from a single variety, which assists Nardini to achieve an optimum condition for the pomace mix prior to distillation. Red wine grapes provide much of the flavour, but the more lightly-pressed white wine grapes add vital moisture to the final blend. Quality is further guaranteed by ensuring that winemakers only supply pomace derived from de-stemmed grapes. For Nardini, fresh pomaces and a fully-controlled initial fermentation immediately prior to the distillation process – whether by pot or column still – are considered critical elements of the production process. At Nardini’s distilleries, some 22 kilos of pomace are needed to produce a single litre of grappa. Importantly, prior to distillation, unlike the custom with many other grappa producers, no sugar or yeast are deployed to boost fermentation, nor is any water used to moisten the pomaces. Demineralised water is only added after distillation to achieve the desired alcohol level. In the case of ‘Le Ramate’ products, this takes place prior to their final blending.