Posted May 7, 2013

Seattle’s Tulio Restaurant is Sweet on Grappa

Eat + Drink

Chef Walter Pisano and Tulio’s great grappa selection

Got grappa? Tulio restaurant in Seattle does. In fact, it has a grappa list 40 varietals strong.

The story of how Tulio came to be one of the Pacific Northwest’s most notable sources of the alcoholic beverage — typically enjoyed as a digestif and made by distilling the grape skins, pulp, seeds and stems left over from winemaking — is an interesting one. And there’s no better person to share it than Executive Chef Walter Pisano, who’s been with the restaurant for all of its 20 years. We caught up with Walter to find out about Tulio’s grappa collection and how his passion for the famously strong spirit was uncorked.


Life is Suite: Grappa is something of an acquired taste. Would you agree?

Walter Pisano: It’s pretty intense, from an alcohol content standpoint. {It has anywhere from 40-80% alcohol by volume.} While it’s made from grapes, it doesn’t taste like wine, beer or any other spirit. This can make it a bit difficult to pair with food. Yet, enjoyed alone, especially as an after-dinner drink, you can really come to appreciate its nuanced aromas and flavors. You get a wide range of flavors — everything from fruity to flowery to woodsy, depending on the grapes that were used. They key is encouraging people to try it and compare different kinds, like you would with wine.

LIS: Tulio has a ton of grappa on the menu. How did you first get into it?

Walter: My intro to grappa was tasting homemade varietals produced by friends and acquaintances here in the U.S. There is a small, tightly knit Italian community in Seattle and I’ve been given grappa as a gift or have tasted it at gatherings. But I truly started getting into it when traveling through Italy many years ago. Italy has great grapes; it’s no secret. A lot of grappa is made right there at the wineries so what you are getting has been quickly processed, almost like picking fresh fruit from the vine. It hasn’t taken time to travel to an outside distillery and that turns out to be a great benefit.

LIS: How are you sharing your love of grappa?

Walter: About five years ago, I decided to extend our grappa list. I went in search of more — it’s now possible to find some great bottles that are made in the U.S. — and built up our selection. I introduced a grappa happy hour. It’s held every day from 8-10 p.m., typically the time of after-dinner drinks. You get to try three different kinds of grappa for $20. I’ve also held a grappa class to educate people on the drink and how it’s best enjoyed.

LIS: Go ahead — give us a few grappa drinking secrets.

Walter: You want to drink it in a stem glass. Swirl it around a lot and put your nose in there. Let it settle, swirl it again, take a little on your tongue and let it dissolve. Then just sip it. Embrace it. Take your time.


LIS: Is the difference in various types of grappa obvious?

Walter: Yes! Our grappa menu is divided into sections, depending on its taste. There is Fruit Forward, Elegant, Robust and Refined, and For Whiskey Drinkers. In Fruit Forward, you have a Jacopo Poli Ciliegie, which has the taste of tea leaves and ripe cherries; and Nivole Grappa di Moscato, which has notes of overripe apricot, elderflower and prickly pear. On the other end of the spectrum in the Whiskey Drinkers section (which are aged in wooden casks), you have Soft Tail Giallo with the taste and nose of vanilla, clove, leather, tobacco and earth. The fun is discovering all the nuances.

LIS: In other words, drinking grappa is a flavorful way to end the night.

Walter: Absolutely. And don’t forget a cup of espresso on the side, along with the grappa. They taste great together … and you get a little boost, too.

We look forward to taking that advice. Cheers, Walter!

Check out the 40-varietal selection of grappa for yourself at Tulio, 1100 5th Avenue in Seattle (206-624-5500 or


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