Random Italy Photo: Bicicletta – Bassano del Grappa

Man riding his bicycle in the outskirts of Bassano del Grappa, in June, 2005.

The town of Bassano del Grappa is home to the Italian spirit that many Americans, if they’ve tried it, equate to drinking rubbing alcohol – grappa. And in some of its cruder forms, they probably aren’t very far off.

But like any distilled alcohol, there is a wide range of qualities. Some of the more refined grappa can be quite smooth with subtle nuances. There is, however, a certain way to drink it that’s required in order to detect these delicate notes.

Chances are, those that think of it as a form of gasoline drank it like a shot – downing it in one fast and painful gulp. However, somewhere in my travels I was schooled on the “proper” way to taste grappa. It is much more about evaporation than getting it down as quickly as possible.

Take the smallest of sips into your mouth and just let the grappa rest on your tongue. As it evaporates, you pick up much more subtlety in the flavors ranging from light floral and fruity notes to more complex aromatic herbs and spices. And with this method there’s the added bonus of not feeling like you’re burning a hole in your esophagus.

What’s really fun is to do a flight of grappa. You get smaller pours, but can taste through a few different types. Because it is made from the stems and grape skins left over from making wine, the characteristics can vary just as much. Sampling them side-by-side is a great way to detect the differences.

Now having said all of that, the locals in Bassano and much of the Veneto region of Italy, do seem to drink it like a shot. When we arrived in town, it was mid-morning. The bars were open, and some of the locals were there shooting back glasses of the finer grappa at the Nardini Distillery. We opted to drink them slowly, and were able to walk out and still enjoy more of what this little town had to offer – like the Jacopo Poli Grappa Museum (more grappa!), and of course, the famous wooden bridge designed by Andrea Palladio.

So if you happen to be one of those folks who hate grappa, maybe give it one more try. But this time, save your throat and let it evaporate.

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