In praise of grappa


Playwright Samuel Beckett told art collector Peggy Guggenheim that “making love without being in love was like taking coffee without brandy.” Of course if Sam had been Italian instead of Irish, it would have been grappa he’d have been putting in his coffee and he’d have called it caffé corretto. When grappa is drunk straight as I digestive, it should be served chilled – in rural Italy it is typically stored ready poured in large glass tumblers in the fridge. For a corretto, the grappa needs to be added at room temperature to avoid cooling the coffee. Of course a chilled grappa may be taken after coffee, in which case it is called ammazza caffé – literally coffee-killer.

g In praise of grappa

The best place for a corretto is at Pane e Vino, the new food and wine bar which has opened at Bosman’s Crossing in Stellenbosch. As you drive in on the M12 (locally known as the Polkadraai Pad) after buying a case of Johan Reyneke’s excellent biodynamic Shiraz or the R310 after lunch with Hannes Myburgh at Meerlust you’ll come to a vineyard full of waving yellow hands. Despite all appearances, this is not an al fresco ad for Simba Nik Naks. It is Land Art by Strijdom van der Merwe.

Turn right and proceed up the hill past Oude Libertas and then follow the signs for the Stellenbosch Cemetery. Beyond the cemetery lies Bosman Crossing which is hedonistically multifunctional. In addition to Pane e Vino, run by Elena, wife of George Dalla Cia, there is the Vilafonté winery of Californian husband and wife team Zelma Long and Phil Freese and the new old grappa distillery of George’s dad, Giorgio, former winemaker at Meerlust and now making the stuff under his own eponymous brand.

g1 In praise of grappa

The distillery is literally in the right place at the right time: grape skins, stems and seeds are carted from Vilafonté and distilled into a fiery white spirit by Giorgio, the father of Grappa in SA. Before he left Meerlust, he made the stuff on the historic farm with Hannes a 50:50 partner. Hannes generously gave his share in the business to George and now father and son are a third generation grappa making team.

Back in Friuli, Giorgio’s dad was the first Dalla Cia to make grappa back in the roaring twenties and it’s a pleasure for Giorgio to see a family tradition continued in the New World. The current range consists of two products under the brand G (choosing to opt out of the political debate about whether SA grappa may be called grappa): both are blends – Pinot Noir and Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, the latter available in a premium wood matured version at the almost abstemious alcohol level of 40%.

At Pane e Vino the emphasis is on traditional Italian dishes featuring local seasonal ingredients and products imported from the Old Country like Parma Ham, Pistacchio Mortadella and Parmigiano Reggiano. The olive oil and fiordilatte mozzarella are proudly South African and Elena’s focaccia is home baked.

On the subject of local content, Giorgio dreams wistfully of adding a sprig of marijuana to his grappa in the same way that Italians add ruta (Herb of Grace). He’d call it Maria Giovanna, but may have to wait for a change in legislation to avoid the attentions of Mr. Plod. In Amsterdam, Vodka flavoured with marijuana is wildly popular in the cosy bruin kroegjes of the Jordaan, added to the coffee in the manner of Mr. Beckett and Mrs. Guggenheim.