Drinking in Italian

A grappa education at Culina

If there were ever a spirit with a bad rap to beat, it's grappa. Even the Italian writer Italo Calvino saw it in a bad light, labeling it "suitable only for defrocked priests, unemployed bookkeepers and husbands who have been cuckolded."

But there's more than its fiery ability to increase one's appetite intermezzo, and the selection chosen by sommelier Brick Loomis at Culina, the recently opened restaurant in the Four Seasons Los Angeles, offers a reeducation opportunity.

Loomis' grappa list is beyond expansive, including much more than straight Italian grape pomace spirits. There's ùe too, a style of brandy made from whole, de-stemmed grapes; its fruitier, more round taste makes it a more approachable digestivo. Or, for the sweet fiends, there's an array of sugar-laced and infused bottles, syrupy grappa liqueurs carrying flavors like chamomile or blueberries.

We're no grappa apologists: We love its green-smelling, herbaceous burn and its somewhat rough edge (but then again, we've always wanted to be an old Italian man). As such, our favorite from Culina is the high-octane, white-peach-scented Carpene Malvolti Grappa Bianca ($12), made from Prosecco grapes. Another standout was the aged, oak-spiced Jacquo Poli Barrique ($20), which tasted like an Italian take on cognac.

Culina, 400 S. Doheny Dr., Mid-City; 310-860-4000 or culinarestaurant.com