Nothing could be more foreign to the American palate than grappa, the Northern Italian brandy distilled from the grape skins, stems, and seeds left over from winemaking (what the French produce as marc). By tradition, a poor man's drink, grappa can pistol-whip the palate of the neophyte. Rustic, often fiery, it smells of hay, earth and God knows what else. Today, top winemakers and distillers from all over Italy artfully craft their grappas, often distilling them from a single grape variety, or even a single variety from a single designated vineyard. Some are aged in wood anywhere from six months to a year. The result is a smoother, more insinuating product that can be downright elegant, while still retaining the spirit's primary characteristics. Grappa has an intensity, a pristine quality, and an underlying simplicity. Grappa is strong, but it leaves the taste buds refreshed.