One of the fun things about travelling is finding out what the locals like to drink. And then bringing the best of it home. Every sip becomes an evocative reminder of a great holiday.
The problem is that when you’re coming home to Australia, European duty-free booze is useless, because a bottle bought at the airport in Europe can’t be taken back on board in Dubai, or Singapore, or wherever.
So you have to buy it early and pack it deep in your suitcase. Two things to remember (and we have fallen foul of both): make sure it’s safely packed, because a broken bottle can soak an entire suitcase of stuff; and make sure you have an accurate tally of alcohol so you don’t exceed your 2.25 litre limit. Because once you’ve hit Australian customs you can’t NOT bring it in any more, and if you’re over the limit, even by a fraction, you’ll have to pay penalty tax on the lot, even the stuff that’s within your allowance. Painful.
The world’s become a pretty small place, so it’s increasingly easy to get anything you want wherever you are, and that’s a double-edged sword. It feels much less special when you find what you thought was something unique in the local bottle shop, but on the other hand it’s great to be able to get some more of it, if you really like it.
This time we came back with quite a collection of grappa – one of my favourite drinks. You can increasingly get some really interesting varieties here in Australia. We found a fantastic one in a restaurant in the city (Cecconi’s), one with a hint of orange from somewhere in Tuscany, warmly recommended by what seemed like a slightly homesick waiter.
The main appeal of getting it from the source is that it’s much easier to taste a whole range and find out what you like, and it’s a hell of a lot cheaper.
Good grappa in this country tends to be really expensive, particularly compared with the original price. I’m not sure what’s responsible for the massive mark-up, but sellers swear it’s the fault of punitive taxes.
On this trip, we made a bee-line for the town of Bassano del Grappa, even though we knew by then it’s not named after the drink at all. But still, it is the home of a Grappa museum, and also of the maker Poli, a highly regarded artisan distillery.
It’s a very pretty town on the fringes of the Dolomites and it’s really delicious grappa. And the bonus: they’re more than happy for you to taste from their selection.
While there may be traces here and there of the “dirty socks” smell and taste that grappa is famous for (and which I have a great affection for), most of these are so elegant it’s hard to speak of them as the same thing. They’re aged in bourbon or sherry barrels and have a wonderfully smooth taste.
In this case, the delicacy of Poli’s glass bottles added to the appeal while making the decision to bring some back particularly fraught, but we got them all home safely.
Mirto, a Sardinian favourite
The other alcohol we brought back this time is mirto, a drink made from the myrtle plant, which is native to Sardinia.
There are two versions: red and white. The red is made from the berries of the plant, and tends to be a little sweeter than the white, which I understand is made from the young leaves. The red one is the one that is on every table in Sardinia (usually the brand Zedda Piras). Just lately I’ve seen it in a couple specialty bottle shops here in Melbourne.
The one we both fell in love with was the white one, which I have come to believe is only available in Sardinia (and the nearby islands). I had hoped southern Italy was close enough, but we found it nowhere on these recent travels.
So we brought home an unusual red one, which is so dark (in taste and look) I think they should call it black. And so delicious it’s almost better than the white I remember (we drank up our stocks long ago).