Grappa Legend: Romano Levi

For the best grappa in the world - try Romano Levi Grappa, if you can find it! The Taste SF visits the distillery in Piedmont, Italy.
Dried pomace from the prior year's distillation process to fuel the fire for next year. The Taste SF visiting Romano Levi Grappa distillery in Piedmont, Italy.

 

We had not tasted grappa that we liked before, but our visit to Romano Levi changed our opinion of this spirit entirely. You may not have had good grappa before, but this artisanal distillery crafts some of the most exquisite grappa in the world.

Grappa is made from distilling the pomace (skins, stems, etc) from wine grapes, which are a byproduct of the winemaking process, and one of the most interesting things about Romano Levi’s grappa is that the spirit actually resembles the type of grape it is made from. In our experience, this is fairly rare.

Romano Levi was known for his antics – he refused to sell large quantities  of bottles of grappa to any one person, and sometimes he would force buyers to give back their empty bottles before he would sell them new ones. Romano passed away in 2008, but his apprentice and now grappa maker, Fabrizio Sobrero, was gracious enough to welcome us to the distillery with our friends Ceri and Fabio.

 

Romano's apprentice and now grappa maker, Fabrizio Sobrero, gives a tour of the distillery. The Taste SF visiting Romano Levi Grappa distillery in Piedmont, Italy.
Storage for the pumice to make the grappa. The Taste SF visiting Romano Levi Grappa distillery in Piedmont, Italy.

Romano Levi's direct-fire still. The Taste SF visiting Romano Levi Grappa distillery in Piedmont, Italy.
Drying pumice to use for the fire still to make grappa next year. The Taste SF visiting Romano Levi Grappa distillery in Piedmont, Italy.

Tasting the best grappa, it resembles the type of grape it is made from. The Taste SF visiting Romano Levi Grappa distillery in Piedmont, Italy.

 

Located in the small town of Nieve (Piedmont)), stepping into this distillery is like stepping back in time. Romano Levi’s direct-fire still is built into a brick enclosure and is fueled by a fire built in a room underneath. The distillery was environmentally friendly before its time, and uses dried pomace from the prior year’s distillation process to fuel the fire, the ash from which is returned to the vineyards as fertilizer.

In addition to being a world-class distiller, Romano Levi was also an artist and loved nature. He designed and made the labels for his bottles by hand, many which include the “wild woman” image that he’s known for. Additionally, his original handprinted bottles have become collectors items today and has a huge following.

 

The tools and art from Romano on display. The Taste SF visiting Romano Levi Grappa distillery in Piedmont, Italy.
Romano's apprentice and now grappa maker, Fabrizio Sobrero, explains how the fire burning still works. The Taste SF visiting Romano Levi Grappa distillery in Piedmont, Italy.

Photos and paintings of Romano are on display at the distillery. The Taste SF visiting Romano Levi Grappa distillery in Piedmont, Italy.

Photo of Romano on the wall of the distillery. The Taste SF visiting Romano Levi Grappa distillery in Piedmont, Italy.
The Taste SF visits and tastes grappa at Romano Levi Grappa distillery in Piedmont, Italy.

Tasting with The Taste SF at Romano Levi Grappa distillery in Piedmont, Italy.

Scenes from The Taste SF visiting Romano Levi Grappa distillery in Piedmont, Italy.
The scale used to weigh the pumice to make grappa. The Taste SF visiting Romano Levi Grappa distillery in Piedmont, Italy.

Bottles of grappa to taste at the distillery. The Taste SF visiting Romano Levi Grappa distillery in Piedmont, Italy.

A wall of bottles with infused local herbs and plants. The Taste SF visiting Romano Levi Grappa distillery in Piedmont, Italy.
Fabio Gea and grappa maker, Fabrizio Sobrero, talking about grappa. The Taste SF visiting Romano Levi Grappa distillery in Piedmont, Italy.

Baskets where pumice would be moved. The Taste SF visits the Romano Levi Grappa distillery in Piedmont, Italy.
The desk of Romano Levi with windows filled with cobwebs. The Taste SF visiting Romano Levi Grappa distillery in Piedmont, Italy.

Bottles infused local herbs and plants. The Taste SF visiting Romano Levi Grappa distillery in Piedmont, Italy.

 

We had the pleasure of tasting through the entire range of Romano Levi grappas on our visit, which include grappas made from Muscat, Barbaresco, and Barolo, as well as grappas infused with chamomile. The bottles of herb grappa on the wall were beautiful! We prefererd the more delicate grappas, and ended up bringing back one bottle of Muscat and one bottle of chamomile grappa.

Romano Levi is very small production and it’s fairly rare in the United States. Similar to Bartolo Mascarello, only restaurants with serious Italian wine lists are likely to have it. We actually spotted a display of it at Charlie Bird in New York, but they do not serve it. It’s only for display.

 

                Photographers The Taste SF visits romano levi grappa in Piedmont Italy

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2 Comments

  1. Could you tell me anything about a bottle of Grappa I recently got, it has Romano Levi 90 in small letters in the side of the label, it has mountains drawn on the label with red flowers on them and has a sealed cork with serial no341781 it says Grappa Distillata per William J Donald.

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