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Villa de Varda, The Best Grappa’s in the World and More: A couple of months back as I planned to visit Northern Italy, on an Amarone trip, a lightbulb went off and I decided to get there a few days early. Rewind a couple of years and I’d had dinner in NYC with Michele Dolzan from Villa de Varda. The Grappa’s and other liqueurs he poured that night were impressive to say the least. I made a mental note to visit when I could. Once I realized I’d be about an hour away I reached out and made plans to visit them in the foothills of the Dolomites.
It was March so the weather wasn’t harsh one way or the other.  After landing in Verona in the mid-morning I hurtled up the highway just north of Trentino where I was greeted by Michelle Dolzan. For the rest of the day Michele, his brother Mauro and their Father Luigi hosted me in what amounted to a non-stop cavalcade of Grappa, Food, Liqueurs and Amaro.

There are two words that best describe what Villa de Varda does and they are purity and freshness. Taste one or 50 of their offerings and that will be crystal clear. Just like with wine, it all starts in the vineyard. Grappa is produced by distilling the pomace that is left after grapes are crushed to make wine. Nearly every producer of Grappa in the world buys their pomace from a winery. Villa de Varda went a different route. To assure that they have access to the freshest possible pomace they started their own winery. As a result they also produce a line of wines. The one exception to using house pomace is their Grappa di Amarone Riserva. For that they purchase Pomace from Bertani, the most traditional and quite frankly best Amarone producer.

Their obsession with freshness makes all the difference in the end result. When purchasing from others it’s impossible to know how long the pomace has been lying around prior to distilling. The longer it sits it dries out and results in a harsher Grappa. If you’ve ever put your nose to a glass filled with Grappa that emits burning aromas like gasoline, you’ve experienced the worst possible result. Another benefit of controlling pomace is keeping the varieties separate. Villa de Varda produces mostly Grappas from single varieties; a couple of blends are the exceptions in their portfolio. Growing and crushing their own grapes assures they can do this with confidence. They distill each Grappa 6 times using a proprietary method and unique combination of Stills. This lends to the smoothness of their finished Grappas.

It was incredibly instructive to visit their facility and see where the Grappa is made. Tasting them elsewhere is one thing, but having my hands on the still one moment and sitting down to taste the lineup in an adjacent room the next is an irreplaceable experience. Doing so alongside the family that produces them raises the experience in a way that can’t be duplicated otherwise.

I have tasted Grappa from many producers. And certainly there are some other fine examples out in the world. The vast majority of the good ones are small scale passion projects. There is literally no one out there focusing on Grappa that produces them with the variety, consistency and level of quality that Villa de Varda does. In anything in life someone naturally has to be the best. When it comes to producing Grappa, it is unquestionably Villa de Varda. Purchase anything that bears their name with the confidence that you’re getting a fresh, pure product made with integrity, passion and soul.

Villa de Varda Grappa Pinot Grigio ($45)

This crystal clear Grappa opens with fruity aromatics. Bits of Bartlett pear are evident as well as a hint of vanilla. The soft, gentle palate features apple, chamomile and wisps of spice. The finish is long and smooth with just a kiss of perceptible heat.

Villa de Varda Grappa Trié ($55)

This offering is a blend of Pinot Bianco, Müller Thurgau, and Teroldego. From the first whiff Trié shows off impressive complexity. Orange zest, dried plum, vanilla and roasted hazelnuts are present. All of these characteristics continue on the palate which is layered and complex. Dark chocolate and copious spice notes are evident on the lengthy finish. Trié is impressive and really of remarkable quality and depth for the price. This is their most popular Grappa and it’s easy to taste why.

Villa de Varda “Roncola” Grappa Müller-Thurgau Stravecchia ($95)

The aromatics here are an absolute knockout. A host of fruits are joined by vanilla, crème fraiche, and hints of flaky biscuit. The palate is stuffed with a procession of fruit flavors wrapped in gentle spice notes, hints of oak and bits of warmth. The impossibly long finish is deep and gentle in nature with bits of fruit and spice lingering on and on. What’s really interesting about this Grappa is that the gentleness of the palate stands in contrast with the extroverted aromatics that get things started. Together they make for a unique and delicious offering.

Villa de Varda Grappa Stravecchia Nonno Giovanni ($115)

This Grappa is composed of Teroldego. 5% of it has 40 years of age on it. Toasty oak, roasted chestnuts, mesquite honey and cherry aromas are all evident. Chamomile tea, chicory, dried white fruits and spice notes to spare mark the palate. The finish is prodigiously long, honeyed and deeply layered.

Villa de Varda Grappa Amarone Stravecchia ($140)

This is aged in a combination of Chestnut, Acacia and Cherry Wood barrels. Toasted nuts, caramel and red fruit aromas are all evident. A dusting of cocoa leads the palate which also shows off dried cherry and spice. Continued toasted nuts, red fruit and bits of honey are evident on the impressive finish.

Villa de Varda “Vibrazioni” Grappa Vecchia Reserva (N/A)

Aged in Red Fir Barriques which are made from wood sourced in the Dolomites of Trentino. This is the same wood used to make violins. Chestnut and cherry aromas abound. Plum, apricot, and toasted walnut flavors are all in evidence. The long and persistent finish shows off marmalade, white pepper and hints of marzipan. Incredibly complex, delicious and extraordinary.

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