Difficult to find outside of the region of production with names (marc, grappa, trester), and often mispronounced, all are heady, earthy-tasting clear distillates derived from the pressed skins and pips of grapes. Some producers use stalks too, but most prefer to leave them out.
French age their marc and let it acquire a rich tawny colour. Marc de Champagne, Marc de Bordeaux, Marc de Bourgogne and Marc d’Alsace, are relatively famous and enjoy a certain popularity in France, but some bottles are also exported to the USA, UK, Germany, Canada and even Japan.
Marc is an earthy, robust, distillate, high-alcohol (40 -50 %) product some connoisseurs like after a heavy meal, or in their coffee.
You can also put a splash in your morning espresso, if you work at home or have the privilege of working in a “creative“ environment, or pair it with Epoisses a most flavourful French cheese or use it to flame your game birds for extra flavour.
Marc is very flexible; you can even use it in citrus sorbets.
Aubert de Villaine, the manager of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, arguably the most venerable of all Burgundy wineries declared marc to be the “ fifth wheel of the winemakers cart “. Be that as it may, the fact remains that refined marc is the result of long aging.
Cognac and Armagnac are distilled wine, and must be aged a minimum of three years, often much longer. Marc becomes tame and smooth after 12 years or longer since it originates from a byproduct, – the skins and pips.
In Burgundy distillers clarify their marc by adding a small quantity of milk
resulting in a smooth, polished, and refined product, that only a few marc of other regions can match.
Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, Dujac, M. Gaunoux, Roulot, Clos de Tarte are a few of the better Marc de Bourgogne distillers. If you happen to be in Cotes du Rhone and dine in a fine restaurant, ask the sommelier whether he has the marc of Chateau Grillet, the smallest and single-owner appellation of France (4.5 acres = 2 hectares).
France is the only country producing marc. In neighboring Italy many wineries distill grappa. It is much the same as in France except that Italians think aging weakens “the fire “ of the grappa.
In the past, grappa was a “ fierce “ distillate, rough and burning. It was mostly meant for labourers tilling the land or working the vineyards. Three decades ago, a few small distilleries thought of refining the traditional age-old grappa by distilling it using steam rather than fire.
Nonino was the first and most successful of all, and to this day is the market leader or refined beautifully packaged “varietal“ grappas of Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Bianco.
Others produce grappa di Barolo or grappa di Barbaresco
(Piedmont), Lombards are also well known for their white wine grappas.
Today grappa, at least in northern Italy, has been elevated to a sophisticated after-dinner drink packaged in outlandish, sometimes stunning-looking bottles. Prices escalated accordingly.
If you ever come across Grappa di Barolo or Grappa di Barbaresco by Ceretto in Piedmont, buy it without questioning quality, but watch the price!
Some Chianti producers distill grappa, but usually refrain from marketing it! They prefer using their product in Tuscany.
Germans call their marc trester and each region produces its own style.
Some are better than others, but most importantly it is the grape variety that matters. Riesling seems to produce the best because of its high acidity.
Often in poor vintages, trester or for that matter marc, tastes better than in good vintages. In Oregon there are a few (Steve McCarthy) grappa producers, using Pinot Gris pomace; their grappa is smooth with a pronounced varietal character, but expensive at US $ 50.00.
Surprisingly, Argentine and Chilean wineries prefer to use pomace as a fertilizer on their vineyards, as do South Africans, and Australians.
As the saying goes: “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure “.