Cigar Aficionado

Grappa on the Go

Talk about immersing yourself in your work:

Sandro Bottega is in the process of touting another one of his unique presentations of his family's eau-de-vie, Alexander Grappa. This one is a spray bottle, filled with grappa and with the look of a perfume atomizer, a device that he allows is perfect for aromatizing coffee, cheese, chocolate, even cigars on the run.

Then he voices an afterthought: "Even when you're tired at the office…" -- he spritzes a fine mist into the air and lets it settle around -- "…you can spray a little. It will wake you up."

For Bottega this is just one more in a line of novel packages. Some of his more ambitious designs include a golf set, which features grappa in a dimpled glass ball and a miniature glass club, the Alexander World, with a globe suspended in the center of the bottle; the Alexander Grappolo, in which a hollowed sprig of grapes appears to hang; and a bottle with a hollow up the center meant for storing a cigar.

The Alexander line is not, however, merely about packaging. The grappa in the bottle is the product of the Bottega family's long heritage in the traditional heart of grappa production, the Veneto region, sometimes also called the Garden of Venice.

It's just that the present-generation's grappa maker has taken the concept of terroir beyond what goes into the bottle and enlisted the bottle itself as part of that elusive trait that the environment in which quality products are made imprints upon them. To that end he employs the skills of the famed master glassblowers from nearby Murano. Bottega personally creates the glass-bottle designs that are undertaken by a factory of artisans who work exclusively with his family. Bottega likes to refer to his company's journey as: "One hundred years of history. Twenty years of creativity."

Those who have had harsh confrontations with austere grappas will find a welcome for their palate with Alexander Grappa. Produced at the family's Distilleria Bottega, the spirits are doubled distilled in a proprietary copper column still at, for the most part, moderate strength (around 40 percent alcohol, or 80 proof). Bottega's stated aim is to produce a less aggressive grappa to meet the expectations of a sophisticated new generation of grappa drinkers. The result is a bright, crisp spirit that still manages to communicate the mellow flavors of its grapes.

Bottega's spirits are as varied as his bottles. Simply put, grappa is a colorless brandy from fermented grape pomace, the crushed residue of wine making. Bottega makes his in a series of expressions that include: Alexander Grappa, a spirit made from local white and red grapes, a bright nutty flavor with some spice and vanilla.

Alexander Grappolo, made only from Proseca grapes, like the former, but more floral with fleshy fruits and good balance.

Alexander Grappa di Cabernet, another grappa di monovitigno (made from one grape variety), this one from Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc grapes, a warmer spirit with red grape and berry notes.

Alexander Platinum, vintage-dated and 60 percent alcohol (120 proof), made from two signature grapes of the region, Amarone and its dessert wine counterpart, Recioto di Amarone, quite floral, even perfumed, with intense berry flavors and spice.

Bottega, whose family ventures also include wine, mineral water, lemon-flavored grappa and olive oil, has become something of an ambassador for grappa. He touts it not only for familiar uses (a digestif served neat), but to be served on the rocks, with desserts, in cocktails and, of course, in the aforementioned aerosol form. In addition to proselytizing for the category, he has used grappa to create mixed drinks, with names like the Alexander Ragtime and Italian Wife, and recipes for spaghetti, prawns, plum mousse and crepes.

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