Sunday, December 24, 2006

A grappa-filled Christmas to you all

With holidays and family taking precedence over blogging of late, just a quick note to wish everyone a grappa-fuelled festive season. Sadly, it looks like my wife is taking a hard-line stance on alcohol consumption and expects to be allowed to be the drinker on either Christmas or New Year's Day (both big parties in our family). That means one of them without the grape juice for me! Still, I will endeavour to make up for it on whichever occasion I am allowed to partake.

Here's hoping you all get a bottle of the old firewater from Santa...

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Match report

How was my four day birthday drink-fest I hear you ask? Didn't I? Well, I have just about surfaced in time to tell the tales.

Thursday - A grand grappa-drinking session with 14 fellow fools. The tapas was a treat and the steaks cooked to perfection. Afterwards the bottle came round the table with pleasant regularity although I did have my suspicions as to the lack of bite to the grappa. Still, a wonderful evening and some excellent conversation.

Friday - Running at a slightly lower peep due to previous night's efforts still managed to partake of a crab/prawn starter and pork fillet in mushroom sauce main course at aforementioned jazz club. The only jazz was on a large screen next to us but, thankfully, drowned out by our conversation. Grappa points nil, unfortunately, but still a good night although the place lacked a bit of atmosphere.

Saturday - Indian time with my wife. Much more relaxed affair. Pakora/samosa combo to start followed by Balti chicken and king prawn dopiaza. Top notch but no grappa once again.

Sunday - As always an outstanding meal round at my mum and dad's. Once more nobly fired into the red wine and coffees before collapsing in bed for about an hour in order to recover. Luckily, off work for a week in order to prepare for festive binges to come.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Another year, another bucket of grappa

With my birthday looming (Friday) what better way to celebrate than with a four-day long excuse for grappa consumption? My agenda has a hectic look to it over the next few days.

Thursday - The boys of the Giovedi Club are gathering for their Christmas do (among them that fine blogger Martino). A total of 14 (possibly 15) of the biggest scemi in Scotland will join together for wine, food and talk of a nonsensical variety. The venue this year is a tapas bar as our favourite local Italian has switched to its Christmas menu. There are only so many times you can eat turkey.

Friday - My actual birthday. Coincides, as it often does, with the Champions League draw AND a staff night out. This time around we will try a local Jazz Club which also does food. Given that I HATE jazz the omens are not good. Numbers, as always, have dwindled as people call off for a variety of reasons. Does nobody like Christmas parties any more?

Saturday - Queen of the South v Airdrie United, Fiorentina v Milan and, finally, a big fat Indian. Grappa opportunities nil (until I get home) but the chance to nibble a naan. Taking my wife out again. Twice in a year!

Sunday - The family gathering. Mum putting on a lunch for her kids and grandchildren. That should make a total of ten of us round the table for a bit of antipasto and the like. Then it will be off to a darkened room to recover.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Grappa as art

While conducting my internet research that found a Slovakian version of grappa (see the comments on the previous post) I also found this. I don't know why but I like it. Perhaps I could get it as my first tattoo.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

All creatures great and small

Having returned from Tuscany with my father I think it would be fair to report that we did our bit for the grappa distillers of the nation. Indeed, we consumed more food and drink than I thought was possible in the space of four days. If it boarded Noah's Ark, we ate it. And that includes Mrs Noah.

The first day saw a traditional Bugno lunch when we arrived off the plane. A simple Penne Piccanti and main course ensued with grappa to finish (pictured above). It was the nighttime when things got going. At what looked like a roadside cafe we stumbled into an outstanding chef (although service was dreadfully slow).

Our seafood antipasto consisted of sliced squid, followed by salmon with aniseed, followed by cacciucco (seafood soup), followed by branzino (don't even know what that is in English), followed by some kind of mixed seafood. Needless to say, I struggled with my pasta al cervo (venison, I guess) to follow and my nodino di vitello (veal chop) after that. My dad had risotto with pigeon and a tagliata! The sweet came just after midnight. The indigestion lasted most of the following day...

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Road Trip 2011

Some of the best ideas are hatched over a few grappas too many, and some of the worst as well. Where this rates in that grand scheme of things I leave for you to decide. Nonetheless, a grappa-fuelled idea it were...

A friend of mine and fellow guzzler of the grape juice happens to have in his possession the rather nice old automobile pictured. It's his mum's in truth but he swears that he can do it up a bit and get it roadworthy. So, old grappa smarty pants says: "That's brilliant, once my kids are both at school let's take it round Italy!"

The idea has now taken legs and the Grappa Road Trip 2011 is firmly on the agenda. One month where two men (one 100 per cent Scot, the other a half-baked Italian) take a leisurely drive around Italia seeing the sights and sampling the spirits. My excuse is that it would make a book, a Scotsman's introduction to Italy combined with an Italian's introduction to the wonders of British car design. Or something like that.

Anyway, enough rambling. I need a start and finish point and a few things we "simply must see dahling" in between. My inclination was to start in Trieste as, strangely, my grandmother was named after the city (Dinora Ridenta Trieste if you can believe it). Maybe end up in Sicily? All input gratefully received. And do you think the car will make it?

Monday, November 27, 2006

A bizarre Sunday.

I had a rather bizarre experience for me on Sunday. As I headed back to Leith on the bus it suddenly occured to me that the grappa I had a few hours previously had actually been the LOW point of my day. A confusing experience for this grappaholic.

The grappa was served in Edinburgh's Lazio restaurant and, to be honest, was as rough as some of the bars that the restaurant shares Lothian Road with. Granted it was only £2.10, which is the cheapest grappa I have been served in an Edinburgh restaurant, but the sandpaper effect on my tongue confirmed my old granny's saying of "you get what you pay for".

Fortunately my day had these other highlights to make up for the grappa disappointment.

1. Celtic coming from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 with Hibs.

2. Seeing Paul Buchanan of The Blue Nile in concert.

3. Falling in love with Italian actress, Olivia Magnani in Consequences of Love at the Filmhouse. These photos show why..........

Friday, November 24, 2006

One enchanted evening

Well, I did manage to go out for that meal with my wife at a poncy modern cuisine-type restaurant. It turned out to be a memorable night for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the place was completely and utterly EMPTY. It has an upstairs and downstairs section and there appeared to be nobody in either. That didn't exactly make for a great atmosphere and I felt the waitress (who was lovely) seemed more than a little embarrassed by the situation. Still, we weren't going to let that spoil the night.

I had a seafood risotto to start (or risoni as they called it) which was more than passable. My main was duck breast in a plum sauce with noodles. The duck was good and tender but, unfortunately, some unnecessary salady stuff had landed at the side of the dish. One for my one ingredient too many book. My wife had a goats cheesy tartlet thing to start (very tasty but again on a bed of too much rocket) and an amazing vegetable curry which came on a huge frosted glass plate. Pretty tasty and an impressive layout.

The whole experience was sweetened not only by the company but also by the fact that with expert eye I had spotted something on the menu at the start of the evening. Grappa £1.65! You little dancer. A night out with the wife AND an unexpected grappa. La vita e' bella...

Friday, November 17, 2006

A momentous day

I don't like to tempt fate but, what the hell, this is shaping up like a famous day. The reason? I am taking my wife out for a meal.

Now we have been out for more meals than most of you have had hot dinners over the years but this one will be the first in months. We have done a few lunches but this is the first evening meal, I think, since Junior was born in March.

I don't know why but I've voted that we go to one of these fancy modern cuisine places which almost certainly neither of us will like. I always think they operate to a policy of "one ingredient too many". There are often too many flavours and the dishes are too complicated for their own good. Also, the chances of a grappa are slim.

Still, I intend to have a good bottle of wine, turn on the charm and remind my wife of why she married me. First, however, I need to remind myself...

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Cosa manca oggi?

I remember my old Nonna used to have a piece of cloth in her kitchen which carried the headline "Cosa Manca Oggi?" - What is missing today? Down the front it had a list of household goods and little plastic pegs at the side to mark them with. It was designed to produce the weekly shopping list years before Tesco online was invented.

However, I was recently on a trip to Selkirk (I know, don't ask) when I dined out in a fancy hotel in Melrose. Having settled a dispute between the couple next to me about the ingredients of Pesto sauce I partook of a reasonable meal. However, at the finish I realised there was a problem when I looked down at the table in front of me.

Espresso, perfectly acceptable, six out of ten kind of brew. But a big space next to it on the left where something else should have been. And it made me think to myself "Ma Cosa Manca Oggi..."

Monday, October 16, 2006

Scotland v Italy

My recent 9 nights in a row of drinking grappa (and all the years up until now) have given me an idea on how the grappa experience varies in Italy and Scotland. Here I compare the two using various categories and mark each out of 10.

  1. Quality – In my experience you tend to get a decent quality grappa when dining in Italy although occasionally a variety that is brewed in the mountains and strips the tastebuds from your tongue will be served to you. In Scotland good quality grappa is available although usually you have to know where to go to get it. Italy 8 Scotland 6.
  1. Quantity – I don’t think I’ve ever had a small measure of grappa in Italy whereas in Scotland there is a tremendous variance in the quantity served up as one measure. I’ve had substantial measures in some restaurants (and even a second measure on the house) but in others the measure was so small it had almost evaporated before I’d even tasted it. Italy 10 Scotland 7.
  1. Cost – The most I paid for a grappa on my recent trip to Italy was 3 euros. In Edinburgh restaurants the cost is typically between £2.50 to £4 although I have been fleeced £6 for a grappa. The fact Scotland has to import saves the country getting a smaller mark. Italy 9 Scotland 6.
  1. Surroundings – I’m really talking about sitting outside drinking a grappa as a nice restaurant can be in any country in the world. I think the only Scottish outside grappa I’ve had was on Leith Walk in Edinburgh which although I love it, ain’t no Via Nazionale. I’ve also drank grappa in the Piazza Maggiore in Bologna, beside the Leaning Tower of Pisa, in the Piazza Napoleone in Lucca and of course outside Onesti’s in Barga. Bit of a no contest really. Italy 9 Scotland 3.
  1. Waitresses – As an unashamed admirer of Italian women it is a major bonus when an attractive waitress brings the grappa at the end of the meal. However the scores here are a lot closer than you might think as a lot of Italian restaurant owners in Scotland employ family or Italian students to give a restaurant a more authentic Italian feel. If it wasn’t for the diners ordering broo-sheh-ta or tag-li-telly you could almost swear you were in Italy. Italy 9 Scotland 7.
Overall grappa score out of 50: Italy 45 Scotland 29.

The case for moving to Italy gets even stronger.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Martino's 9 in a row.

As a Celtic fan the phrase “9 in a row” has only ever meant one thing to me. Between 1966 and 1974 Jock Stein guided Celtic to, a then world record, nine consecutive league titles. Oh and he also made them European champions as well.

Anyhoo after Saturday night I set my own personal grappa 9 in a row. For nine consecutive nights I drank at least one grappa. I have to say it wasn’t intentional and I never set out to get nine but sometimes these things just happen.

Fri 29th Sept – Was out at my brother’s and my sister-in-law had cooked Italian which was washed down with a few red wines. A grappa was the natural end to the night.

Sat 30th Sept – Knew I was flying out to Italy very early next morning so had to leave Edinburgh at 3:30am to go to Prestwick. Had a wee grappa to help me get to sleep at 8 o’clock.

Sun 1st to Tue 3rd Oct – Visited Firenze, Lucca and Pisa. With large measures at 3 Euros it would have been foolish not to have had a grappa in each city.

Wed 4th Oct – Quick stop back in Edinburgh and a visit to Domenico’s. Another grappa to end the meal.

Thu 5th Oct – Visit to Ginkers in Dumfries. As is always the case a grappa in the restaurant then at least one more back at Ginkers’ house.

Fri 6th Oct – A visit to Yorkshire for my nephew’s 6th birthday. Fortunately the young lad has taste (takes after his Zio Martino) and wanted to go to an Italian for his birthday dinner. He’s a bit young for grappa but that didn’t stop me.

Sat 7th Oct - My brother, Brian, very kindly gives me the last of his grappa as a nightcap to ensure I make 9 in a row.

Friday, October 06, 2006

The streak continues...

Last night was time for a reunion of the two sorry contributors to this blog (Martino and Ginkers). Of course, a little grappa was consumed both in restaurant and back at home. Over the course of the evening it emerged that Martino is on something of a "gold run" for grappa at the moment.

I think his "hitting streak" currently stands at seven. Yes, for seven nights on the trot he has ended a meal with a grappa. He is just back from a Toscana trip and has been on holiday, hence the quality of his performance. I am reliably informed he will be eating Italian tonight as well so the chances he will make it eight out of eight are just about 100%.

I can't actually think what my own PB on this front is. It must have been during an Italian holiday some time but I think usually after four or five I have to take a breather. Can anyone else challenge the great Irish guzzler?

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Oh no I haven't

I fear this lengthy silence might be misconstrued so I feel it should be explained. Firstly, I have not given up drinking grappa. Secondly, I have not stopped posting after letting Martino loose.

The truth is, time has been thin on the ground with work, time visiting relatives and a whole host of other issues taking over. I'd like to think I'll get back to the cut and thrust of the grappa diaries pretty soon. Given that a Martino visit is imminent, my father is due back from Italy soon AND I am about to take a week's holiday I can only think the opportunities for partaking of a drop of the special stuff will be more regular than of late.

One thought I have had recently is about the use of grappa as a psychiatric tool. A sober man rarely talks about his feelings - give him a bottle of the old Nardini or some such and you can't shut him up. Who says the male of the species has to be repressed? All we need is enough grappa to go around and we'll be pouring our hearts out for hours. Although, to be honest, sometimes it would be a relief just to talk about football and women...

Thursday, September 07, 2006

What was Ginkers thinking?

Ginkers has very kindly / foolishly (delete as appropriate) given me access to write on this blog. Anyhoo I recently visited Domenico's in Leith, Edinburgh and here is my review. Now how far can I push this access to someone else's blog before he bans me....................

Domenico’s, 30 Sandport Street, Edinburgh

Shhhhhhhhhhh, it’s a secret.

Knowing a fantastic secret is one of life’s great dilemmas. On the one hand you want to tell everyone you know but on the other hand you don’t want to tell anyone so that the secret remains unspoiled and special to you. Rather like knowing that Celtic’s Aiden McGeady is one of the best young players in the UK but you don’t want to go on about it in case clubs from the Emperor’s New Clothes Premiership in England start trying to sign him.

Domenico’s in Leith is such a secret and I did have the dilemma on whether I should write a grappa review on it for fear of ruining the secret.

Then I remembered that no-one reads this meandering drivel anyway………..

So like Brokeback Mountain 2 – This Time It’s Cowgirls (starring Jolie, Bellucci, Johansson & Theron), Domenico’s cannot be recommended highly enough by this grappaholic.

You have to look carefully to find it as it is up a side street off Commercial Street but it is well worth the search. Your normal (and better read) restaurant reviews would now start to comment on the friendly yet not over attentive waiters, the cosy and comfortable atmosphere and the excellent food which avoids the standard spaghetti bolognese, penne piccante etc of a lot of Italian UK restaurants.

However as welcome as these things are they can all be of no use if the grappa experience is not up to standard as Ginkers’ previous post alluded to. Again Domenico’s doesn’t disappoint. Perhaps it was the shape of the glass (like a letter D on its side) but the measure did appear to be ample and the glass was filled to almost overflowing. As for the taste, there was just enough kick to give me the “grappa glow” but not enough to leave me unable to pronounce Jan Vennegoor Of Hesselink.

But for those of you have stuck with this review until here, the best was yet to come. After we had paid the bill and were getting ready to go, the waiter, like the shopkeeper in Mr Benn, appeared as if by magic at our table.

“Before you go can I offer you another grappa on the house?”

But shhhhhhhh, that is a secret.

Friday, August 25, 2006

A poser

Fresh from another Thursday night's exploits in the world of grappa, this little question crossed my mind. Which of the following makes for the best night out?

1) Great food but awful service with grappa available.

2) Great service but awful food with grappa available.

3) Good food and good service but no grappa.

Now, I ask the question because it is one which is becoming more and more of an issue for my giovedi sorties. I think I end up going for option one on the basis that I love food and grappa and am willing to put up with shoddy service. On the other hand, why should I? Sometimes I get tired of it. Whatever happened to the customer is always right? I don't know. Maybe I worry too much...

Monday, August 21, 2006

I finished a book...

It is not strictly a grappa related issue but, hell, I thought you would like to know. About five months after the birth of my son (my second child, daughter already in situ) I have actually managed to finish reading a book.

To get this in context - I love books. I love reading, just losing yourself in the pages etc but, with a young family, it is one of the first things you give up. It's hard enough to find time to watch a half hour television programme, never mind read 350 pages plus. In addition, after a day of work, entertaining kids, making meals, bathing, etc, you hardly have the energy to pick up a book. Excuses, all of them, you can judge their validity.

Anyway, the book I finished was Fantasyland by Sam Walker which I can unreservedly recommend to anyone who ever played fantasy sport. This one is based on baseball and it shows just how sad and obsessed players of such games can become. As my current portfolio includes two fantasy baseball teams, a fantasy golf team, a fantasy Premiership team AND a fantasy celebrity news portfolio I think I know where he is coming from. Anyway, check it out if that is one of your interests...

Sunday, August 13, 2006

The curse strikes again

On Saturday night I was at the wedding reception of a former colleague at a small hotel in south west Scotland. A lovely, informal gathering and chance to catch up with a few people I hadn't seen for a while and dance about like a fool to a couple of Buddy Holly songs.

So what? I hear you ask. Why bother us with this tale? Show me the GRAPPA!

Well, I'm getting to that. As a habitue or whatever the word is, of hostelries across Scotland my expectation of most hotels is that either 1) They will not stock grappa or 2) They will charge you most of your monthly paypacket for it. Imagine my surprise then when, as I got the first of several rounds in, my eyes were drawn (like a moth to the flame or some such) to a dusty bottle of grappa.

Two questions flitted through my mind. Firstly, can grappa go off? And secondly, does it improve with age? Having answered in the negative to both I decided to bide my time, slurp a little more of the house Shiraz and work my way up to the grappa moment after the buffet (ample with the highlight a hefty Melton Mowbray pie).

So, I approached the bar with an order for a round of four drinks with a couple of them being grappas. I watched with concern as the delectable barmaid (that's probably no longer in any way politically correct) totted up on the cash register. It came to the moment when all grappa drinkers hold their breath. How much am I going to be stung for? £1.90 x 2 flashed up on the screen. Result!

Yes, just for you Edinburgh and London readers that's £1.90 for a grappa. Try getting that in your wine bars and brasseries or wherever you go! If you get change from a fiver you count yourself lucky. I could nearly get three grappas for that.


That was the message flashing through my mind but it was tempered by the brand of grappa up for grabs. It was a Nonino and any regular reader will know my reservations about that little baby. Still, it was a Vuisinar which, my guide book reliably informs me, is "delightful in both taste and finish".

Let me tell you, that is not what my windpipe was telling me at three o'clock this morning. It was asking me why I had decided to gargle with bleach the night before! I am out of practice, of course, but it came as a nasty shock. Undoubtedly the guide writers do not make their judgment on the kind of quantity of the stuff I had consumed...

So, that's my story from the weekend. It was just like old times, really, until my son woke up at 4.30am and decided it was morning. Grappa and a young family don't mix - unless you slip some in his formula the night before and he will sleep until noon. (That's just a joke by the way in case anyone is thinking of phoning social services).

Apologies for rambling, feeling a bit loquacious tonight...

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Forgive my rudeness

I was asked a little while ago by one of my more regular readers, the Spangly Princess, if there was anything in my bible about the Roner grappa she had recently imbibed. For reasons too boring to go into, I never got around to answering but I have delved further into my grappa bible.

Roner, apparently, is the market leader in fruit brandies in Italy with the Bianca and Gold being their more bog standard mixed grape varieties. Their gewurztraminer (try saying that drunk) has apparently got a nutty finish. Oh, and the distillery was established after World War 2 by Gottfried Roner and is now owned by his widow Luisa. Hope this goes some way to making up for my previous lack of response.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

The three horsemen of my holiday

Three grappas, each of a very different style from my recent trip to Italy. The giant Trentino bottle came from my old favourite the Bugno, the dark image comes from another old home of mine at La Mocchia with the last one at Il Pozzo. All in all, a cracking good time. I shall possibly pen more later but my son sounds as if he is trying to scream the house down and I had better go and show some fatherly concern.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

It's that man again!

For those of you who are recent converts to the Diaries you may not be aware that one of our staples, particularly on the old site, was a review of grappa purveyors across the UK, courtesy of our oldest correspondent.

Anyway, after a long sabbatical in a secure unit and drying-out clinic he is back with more of his colourful ramblings. We hope you enjoy...

Pizza Express, 1 Deanhaugh Street, Edinburgh

Here is a box. A musical box. Wound up and ready to play. But this box can hide a secret inside. Can you guess what is in it today?

Who could it be children? Doctor Mopp on his rounds? Windy Miller skilfully dodging those windmill sails or could it be local gossip Mrs Honeyman?

Oh feck! It’s none of them. Instead it’s Martino the Grappaholic back with more inane ramblings of a scemo.

Saturday 22nd July was my birthday and as ever I thought, “I feel the need, the need for grappa” so I rounded up my wingmen (Ged – call sign “Guinness”, Lynne – call sign “Strega” and Lol – call sign “Tequila”), dodged a few MIGs and ended up at Pizza Express in Stockbridge, Edinburgh.

I admit I didn’t hold out much hope of hitting the grappa target on this hop. Pizza Express is a chain restaurant but where there are Italian words on the menu there’s always a chance. Anyhoo after the pizza was dispatched I decided it was the bottom of the ninth, the scores were tied and it was time for the big one. As the waitress approached to take the coffee order I was getting good tone so I switched to missile lock and took the shot.

“Do you have grappa?”

“Yes sir we do.”

And Ortiz has connected. The ball is flying towards the Green Monster. It’s over the wall and onto the Interstate. HOME RUN!!! Red Sox win! Red Sox win!

To be fair, the grappa was a pleasant surprise. Not a classic by any means but very drinkable nonetheless. Subtle in taste and colour (slightly golden), it was a great way to end a birthday meal. Pizza Express did make it a difficult mission by not having grappa on the menu and not displaying it openly at the bar but as a grappa Top Gun it takes more than that to stop me getting the prize.

So after a few more tours of duty round the bars of Edinburgh it was time to return to base. Hopefully it won’t be too long until I get a further mission to liberate the grappas of Edinburgh from their glass prisons.

Friday, July 07, 2006

The time Lord

Sunday night is going to be such a special and nervous event at the same time. I admit, I have never known time drag so much as waiting for the World Cup final to arrive. I remember the same thing back in 1982 and 1994 but this time seems even worse. Every day seems to take an age. And on Sunday every hour before kick-off will seem like an eternity.

It got me thinking about the time-warping qualities of grappa. It has the ability to both slow-down and speed-up the passing minutes. I will give you two cases in point. I once famously sat down with an old drinking partner of mine (Martino anyone?) to polish off a bottle of my father's grappa ai lamponi (grappa with raspberries in it). With that job done it was about midnight, time for my old pal to head home, time for me to head up the stairs. We said our goodbyes on the doorstep. When I got up the stairs to my bed, however, it was suddenly 3am. Martino swears it took him the same three hours to walk home, even though it was only a few hundred yards away. Spooky or what?

The reverse is happening today. I partook of a couple of grappinas last night for the first time in a while with my uncle and father in tow. Now this afternoon at work seems to be lasting an age. Dr Who and his tardis don't know the half of it. A half decent bottle of grappa and you can twist time all you like.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

It's been a quiet time

With the World Cup on, I must admit, the head has been turned from the diaries of late. My apologies for that. I also have to confess that, with a young son up during the night, my exploits on the grappa front have been sorely limited. It's just temporary, you have my word on that, but in the meantime I shall endeavour to keep things ticking over with tales of watching other people getting boozed up. Sob sob...

Friday, May 26, 2006

It's Bath time...

Not before time, a place where the Grappa diaries would be proud to take a tipple - and it's in the UK. Sadly, a bit far from bonnie Scotland but if ever we venture south of the border (although why would we?) we might try it out. It certainly looks like a good place...

Friday, May 19, 2006

Taken roughly...

After all my pretentious posing and guffing on about grappa distilled in oak barrels with a hint of saffron what a pleasure to be brought back down to earth.

The venue: my sister's house. The occasion: an Indian carry-out. The grappa: a brand known by no other name than "Colli Toscani".

It reminded me of the pioneering days of grappa drinking when your old mountain cousins used to wait until the end of a meal and produce a bottle of something they had brewed themselves. No cork or screwtop here when a rag would suffice. The whole family would gather round to watch for your reaction. And, boy, did that stuff pack a punch.

This was no deadly brew like back in the backwaters of the Tuscan hills but still it took me back. Clear, pure and with the kick of a mule - just like I like my women. And it produced the desired effect, two hours of nonsensical rambling about the forthcoming World Cup. Once again I am proud to call myself a Tuscan.

Strangely, I could find no entry for this brew in my grappa bible. Good. Rating: immeasurable.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

I think I have my answer

First night home alone spent as follows:

1) Listening to fantasy baseball radio show.

2) Playing online poker.

3) Blogging until after 11pm.

Mmm. I think I see how the week is going to progress.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

What's a boy to do?

Friends, I am being placed in a terrible position. My wife and family are going away to stay with my in-laws for a few days. Firstly, can I state how much I will miss them. But secondly, it presents me with a dreadful opportunity. In simple terms...

Three whole nights to behave like a single "scemo" again.

For those who have never lived as a single "scemo" (fool is my kindest translation) it generally consists of three things.

1) Staying up very late playing computer games/watching sport.

2) Talking at immense length about football, nonsense and good-looking women.

3) Drinking more grappa than is sensible/advised by government health experts.

As a responsible, married, father-of-two etc, is this acceptable behaviour? Shouldn't I cut the grass, tidy the attic and catch up on the ironing? Will you tell the missus if I don't? Should I restrain myself or should I go for it full pelt and what the hell?

Oh, the torment...

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Francoli, my dear, I don't give a damn...

If there ever is a patron saint of grappa it should probably be San Martino. So how appropriate that those fine distillers Luigi Francoli should produce a brew dedicated to him. He may not strictly speaking be Italian but, with the level of acquavita now flowing in his veins, he could surely play for the Azzurri if Jack Charlton ever takes over as Commissario Tecnico.

This particular brew is not mentioned in my new "bible" but Francoli certainly is. With 600,000 bottles a year it is one of the biggest grappa producers in the land. Out of Ghemme in Piedmont it produces a number of grappe but this is the one which passed my lips recently.

With a deep colour - down to ageing in oak casks, I'm told - it is an eminently drinkable brew which is presumably especially for export since it fails to feature on their official website. Perfectly acceptable middle range drink with decent flavour and kick without being particularly impressive in either department. A good all-rounder and certainly not one to turn the nose up at - as if we ever did that.

Grappa diaries rating: 69 per cent.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Our reviewer hard at work

As always, there are no lengths to which our reviewer is unwilling to go to bring you the most up to date grappa information.

Valvona & Crolla, 19 Elm Row, Edinburgh

Like Celtic getting to a major European final or getting to spend an uninhibited night of passion with Angelina Jolie some events are once in a lifetime occasions. This is mathematically correct as in my lifetime Celtic have been in two major European finals and I’ve never even met Angelina so on average they have both happened once. I’m ignoring the European Cup final defeat to Feyenoord in favour of the delectable Ms. Jolie if that’s okay.

Anyhoo like Homer Simpson seeing the “all you can eat” sign outside his favourite seafood restaurant my eyes were immediately drawn to the “complimentary grappa tasting” on the Valvona & Crolla list of events when it was released a few months ago. A quick check in my dictionary confirmed that complimentary did indeed mean “free of charge” so here was a once in a lifetime grappa event. Although the campaign begins now for Valvona & Crolla to make it a weekly event.

Valvona & Crolla is an Edinburgh institution. Outside a small grey exterior suggests no more than a corner shop but inside it opens out like the proverbial TARDIS to provide a haven for lovers of all things Italian. Hams, cheeses, fresh fruit and veg, sauces, oils and home baked bread all guide you round to the back of the shop where you are greeted by a large selection of wines from principally Italy but some others from around the world. There is also a fantastic café at the back of the shop. Probably the only downside is the attraction the shop has for that certain type of Edinburgh resident who calls his kids Tristan and Miranda and insists on discussing his latest trip to Tuscany at the top of his voice. Listen pal, Ryanair can get you there for £20 nowadays. It’s no big deal.

However if you are ever in Edinburgh you have to pay a visit. It sure beats standing on Princes Street taking photos of the castle and getting in the way of us locals. Other towns have a castle but only Edinburgh has Valvona & Crolla.

So, on to the free grappa. Valvona & Crolla have been selling Bruno Pilzer grappa for some months now and four varieties were available for tasting. The following are the four with my unique Celtic grappa rating.

Chardonnay – Light and subtle but definitely full of class. Rating: Shunsuke Nakamura
Moscato - My favourite of the four. Bit more dig than the Chardonnay but a grappa for all occasions. Rating: Shaun Maloney.
Traminer – Very robust grappa and not one to be taken lightly. Rating: Roy Keane.
Pinot Nero – One contact and your taste buds are picking themselves off the floor. Like hitting a brick wall. Rating: Bobo Balde!

God only knows what happened for the rest of the weekend though. It’s all a bit of a blur………………

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

A new bible?

It was with great pleasure that I received my post last week as a parcel from Amazon finally arrived after days of anticipation. Yes, a guide to grappa by Axel and Bibiana Behrendt (they beat you to it Martino). Luckily, it does not cover all the grappas there are so there is still room for improvement on its impressive detail.

Also, it has inspired me to undertake a new mission - to try to sample all the grappas on its pages. Come with me as I share my tasting notes and compare and contrast with their views. If I make it to the end alive it will be a fine achievement. Certainly looking forward to tracking down some of the more obscure ones. Wish me luck!

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The perfect gift

What do you give the blogger who has everything? The answer, of course, is a new bottle of grappa. Always glad to see my father get back from Italy - even more so when he brings a new tipple for me to try. This is called Lis Radris and is produced by the Vigneti Fantanel I think. Will wait for a special occasion to crack it open. Maybe a day in the week ending with a Y...

Friday, April 21, 2006

Old friends, old habits...

Honest Joe was in town last night and out for a little Giovedi celebration just like old times. A work colleague who moved away he is always a welcome face round the table on a Thursday night. But his greatest grappa claim to fame is his boast...

"That drink has no effect on me. None whatsoever."

The fact that he makes the claim after firing down five or six is all the more interesting. However, I present some evidence which suggests he may be a little economical with the truth.

1) When he hits fresh air after six grappas he usually starts to sway.

2) After one famous session he fell asleep over a free-kick in ISS Pro for four hours.

3) He regularly ends up with his pants on his head.

Still, good to see him. Even if he cannae handle his grappa...

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

A Bergamo field trip

In our new and shiny surroundings, we still find room for our most grizzled, rambling and downright obscure reviewer. The inimitable O'Reilly whose guide to grappa is something of a bible to those who don't actually own a bible.

Bergamo, 7th to 9th April 2006

For this episode of the Grappa Diaries I decided to go to Bergamo. Like Dannii Minogue, Bergamo is often overlooked in favour of a big sister which in Bergamo’s case is Milan. Also like Dannii, Bergamo has two outstanding attractions that deserve closer inspection, namely its citta alta (high city) and citta bassa (low city).

Arriving in Bergamo on Friday evening the first objective was to find a restaurant and hence a grappa. Fortunately less than 50 yards from the hotel the Taverna Valtellinese provided a warm welcome. In the best traditions of Italian restaurants the matriarchal owner sat behind the till while two waiters ran their legs off trying to keep the diners in a packed restaurant happy. The grappa served was also of a fine vintage and was the perfect end to the first evening. Looking back it was the best grappa of the trip. Having recently caught up with the rest of civilisation by buying a mobile with a camera I was able to send Ginkers a picture of this excellent grappa so he could see what I was enjoying. That’s the kind of friend I am.

It is often said that I would climb a mountain for a grappa and that’s what I did on Saturday. Well when I say mountain I mean steep slope and when I say climbed I mean got the cable car up to Bergamo’s citta alta. On looking at the menu in La Marianna I had one of those Shaggy and Scooby “Yoiks!” moments when I saw that a starter portion of pasta cost around €15 while a main course was around €35. After ordering my pasta the waiter enquired “e poi?” and although I thought “e poi I’m out of here at these prices pal” I simply replied “niente”. Who knows how much the grappa would have cost and how good it would have been because I made my escape faster than the aforementioned Shaggy and Scooby being chased by an unscrupulous landowner in an unconvincing werewolf costume.

Fortunately Il Suite bar on Viale Giovanni XXXII back down in citta bassa came to my rescue. Although the grappa was no more than average in taste it was served in a very generous amount which is never a bad thing.

The best stadium in the world to watch football is unquestionably Celtic Park in Glasgow. However the San Siro in Milan is a worthy alternative when the 2006 Scottish Champions are away from home as was the case on Sunday. A Kaka hat-trick helped Milan to a deserved 4-1 victory over Chievo but the star of the show was Pippo Inzaghi. Who else when clean through on goals could hit the ball at exactly the right speed and angle for it to hit the keeper square on the chest and land at Kaka’s feet for Milan’s second goal? Join the campaign to get Pippo to the World Cup at

Looking for a restaurant back in Bergamo to finish off my trip I was given a sign from the grappa gods when I passed La Bruschetta on the way back to the hotel from the station. The one person who has stuck with this meandering drivel since I started it last October (cheers Ginge!) will remember that the first restaurant I reviewed was La Bruschetta in Edinburgh. Fortunately La Bruschetta in Bergamo lived up to the standards set by its Scottish cousin. Although the grappa was of the variety that forced a sharp intake of breath, followed by the loss of speech for a few seconds it was still a welcome end to the weekend. The fact that it was served by a delightfully charming waitress probably helped. Who am I kidding, it definitely helped!

So the next time you are taking a trip to Milan with Ryanair this grappaholic would recommend spending some time in the city of Bergamo rather than just jumping on the first bus to Milan.

And if you can find a restaurant that provides a grappa experience that combines the grappa quality of Taverna Valtellinese, the quantity of Il Suite bar and the waitress of La Bruschetta, let me know. It will be the first place I visit on my next visit.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

My envoys get everywhere...

When the Pope is at home in Rome his influence still spreads across the globe thanks to - among others - his Papal emissaries or envoys. Now, in a completely unconnected style, the Grappa Diaries is proud to have sent its favourite sons out on scouting missions across the world.

The Silver Fox, our oldest and most venerable colleague, is back in the Tuscan hills these days and recently dined at La Mora on the road between Barga and Lucca (Sesto a Moriano, to be precise, I think).

While Martino, that Irish Bishop of Barolo, has been sent out to Milan to see what the capital of Lombardy has to offer. It makes the heart swell with pride to think of our 'boys' back in the heartland of our favourite form of alcohol and giving it laldy (to use an old Scottish term).

Which brings me to the point of this latest blog. Is there any vicarious pleasure to be gained from knowing friends and family are drinking grappa when you are not? At present, I find myself on a remote west of Scotland island where if you asked for grappa I suspect they would mishear it as grampa and try to introduce you to their father's father. And, as previously chronicled, with a six-week old son my days of mad guzzling of the grape are truly curtailed.

So, I answer "yes". There is something to be gained from knowing your old buddies are keeping the team spirit alive - like the Olympic flame - until the time comes for me to take my turn in that unending relay once again.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Maybe my interest in grappa can be rekindled after all

In all my times as a grappa drinker I never thought I would live so long as to read this story. Not only has she produced a top notch red wine, apparently a grappa is on the agenda. Mouthwatering...

Sunday, April 02, 2006

When a man is tired of grappa...

Sometimes, just sometimes, there are moments in life when one is distracted from the blog and even from grappa. Times when the day to day routine gets so all-consuming that there is scarcely time for the consumption of - and writing about - your favourite after dinner drink.

I have been in one such time of late with a new addition to the family, a new job and one thousand other things to think about (I have scarcely had time to focus on the start of a new fantasy baseball season).

Still, the upshot of all this has been a move of my computer to a new HQ where, hopefully, I will get the peace and quiet necessary to muse upon the grappa from time to time.

I also felt it was time for a new home as the old site was becoming increasingly slow and erratic (a bit like myself). Hopefully this new site will prove just as big a success with readers as the old one! I have included a link to our archive for those who have missed out on some of our classic reviews and comments.

Here's to a long future for the Grappa Diaries...

Sunday, March 19, 2006

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