Handle The Proof: An Oregon Grappa

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Most people first encounter grappa in the form of a cheap, punishing brand--the taste of cleaning fluids and jet exhaust being the gentler characteristics.

Generally it's also their last encounter with the spirit conjured from the pulpy leftovers of wine pressings. That's right, the unique flavor of grappa (or marc in France) comes from pulverized grape skin, split seeds and the occasional scrap of bark or snip of grape leaf collectively called 'pomace' in the wine trade--and it can turn into a very harsh liquor. In fact, once when I ordered grappa at Arcodoro & Pomodoro, some guy twice my size standing at the bar backed away in abject fear.

Yet grappa can also be distilled and aged into something wonderfully complex--a foil for espresso and calming finish to a large meal. Oddly enough, a small operation in Portland, Oregon, has been doing just that for many years.

Clear Creek distillery produces grappa from six different grapes: Muscat, Gewurtztraminer, Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio, Nebbiolo and Sangiovese. I picked up a bottle of the Nebbiolo from Pogo's--which of course means I paid somewhat more than suggested retail.

But I was already there, so what the hell.

For what appears to be a fresh grappa, the aroma and flavor is surprisingly smooth. There's some jabs of rubbing alcohol on the nose, but a lot of promise behind it in the form of dry leaves and sweet rot--the dense smell of fruit left on the bottom of a tray. The taste is even more impressive. Alongside the belt of musty alcohol that makes this spirit such a difficult habit to acquire, there's an intriguing combination of clover, vanilla pod and gentle spice.

By their own admition, the Cavatappi Nebbiolo grappa is not Clear Creek's best--not much of a shock; I wasn't aware the grape thrived in the New World. No matter, the admission makes me look forward to finding other varietals on the shelf.

I mean, on other shelves. The suggested retail of $29 gets a $5 or $6 boost at Pogo's.

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