A tasteful Valentine's Day gift

Michael Cheang in Kuala Lumpur/The Star
Asia News Network

Kuala Lumpur (The Star/ANN) - A wonderfully intoxicating aromatic bouquet of spice, fruit, flowers and herbs wafted up from the exquisitely handcrafted bottle. Slender and gorgeously elegant, with a bright red heart twinkling beautifully inside it, the bottle of crystal clear liquid could easily be mistaken for a bottle of expensive luxury perfume.

But wait, this is no perfume - this is a bottle of Alexander Grappa, one of the best grappa in the market, and the perfect Valentine's Day gift for the discerning drinker.

It's safe to say that a bottle of grappa would probably not be on top of anyone's Valentine's Day gift lists, but you might change your mind when you see the gorgeous hand-blown bottles that Alexander Grappa come in.

These beautiful bottles, which you may have seen glinting prettily in the light of airport duty free shops, are each hand-blown by local master craftsmen at the Bottega family's glass production site. From roses and hearts to crystalline bunches of grapes, the bottles are so stunning that they were even the subject of an international art exhibition in Italy called "The Art Of Grappa". In fact, I know someone who actually bought a bottle thinking it was just an extra large bottle of perfume!

This line of thinking is exactly what Sandro Bottega, president of Distilleria Bottega was hoping for when he began the Alexander line back in 1987.

"When you drink our spirit, it's like you're drinking perfume!" he declared, adding that the perfumed aroma of grappa is the spirit's most defining element. Alexander even produces the Alexander Spray, which comes in a proper perfume spray bottle, and which you can spray on your food or drinks to give it a fresh, grape-y aroma.

Sandro, who also personally designs each of the different bottles himself, was in town recently to conduct a tasting of Bottega's wine and grappa as well as to launch the limited edition Alexander Grappa "I Love Malaysia" bottle, which is available exclusively in all Eraman Duty Free shops.

Set up in 1977 by Aldo Bottega, Distilleria Bottega is located at Conegliano in the northeast Italy's Veneto region, which is considered the birthplace of grappa. In 1983, the then 19-year-old Sandro took over the management of the distillery, and eventually turned the company into a top-level international wine-maker and grappa producer.

The distillery uses an innovative and unique vacuum distillation system that supposedly makes their grappa mellower and more delicate. In 1987, not long after this new system was started, the Alexander brand was launched, targeted at consumers with a much more educated and refined palate, according to its official website.

Besides grappa, the Bottega family's ventures also include the production of wines, sparkling wines, wine accessories, mineral water, olive oil and organic food.

According to Sandro, grappa can have different types of aromas depending on what grapes are used - for instance, spicy (from moscato grapes), fruity (prosecco), flowery (Chardonnay) or even vegetable-like (Cabernet Sauvignon).

As mentioned in an earlier column, grappa is a distilled spirit made from grape pomace (essentially the skins, pulp and seeds of grapes that are left over from the winemaking process). Alexander Grappa, however, is made solely with grape skins that are left over from Botega's wine production.

"The skin of the grape contains most of the aromas of the grapes, so we only use that to make Alexander," said Sandro. "To make one litre of grappa, you would need to have 12 kilos of grape skin. For that, you need about 95 kilos of grapes!"

Judging from the grappa we tasted that night, the practice of using only grape skins for the grappa really does make a difference. Certain brands of grappa I've tasted in the past tended to have a sharp edge and are not as fragrant, but the 38% ABV Alexander grappa were not only almost perfume-like in their aroma, but also wonderfully smooth and elegant as well.

During the event, Sandro also walked us through the ideal way to drink grappa, as well as how to appreciate it better.

"Grappa should be drunk at a low temperature, ideally at about 7C to 10C, and from a large wine glass, so you can enjoy the aromas," he said. "First of all, never shake or swirl the glass! This is not a wine! Before drinking, you take a sniff of the spirit, and then drink it."

After finishing your glass of grappa, he suggests leaving the empty glass aside for a moment, before taking a second, deeper whiff of it. "This time, the nose should be very clean and aromatic, because you've taken away the alcohol, and what remains is pure expression of the grapes. This aroma, is the true essence of Alexander Grappa," he concluded.

Michael Cheang wonders if there are any whisky-scented perfumes out there. Reader response to star2@thestar.com.my