While in Italy I shared this distillate with friends. It had been been infused with ruta, also known as rue, which is a shrub found in the Mediterranean and also apparently in parts of Asia. I've never tasted ruta on its own, but when added to grappa I've seen robust flavors develop, in the same manner that Popeye the Sailor enjoys a big lift from spinach. There are the bitter bass notes, a vegetable stalk minerality that I really enjoy, and a leafy citrus treble like you might expect from lemon verbena. And the aromatic frequency changes when ruta is added. The long stalks of ruta don't settle in and go mute. There is in the flavors the persistence of a woodpecker amongst tall pines.
A Levi Serafino bottling of Ruta can be hard to find. It is said that until recently Romano Levi's sister Lidia cultivated the Ruta in a garden near their home. The number of bottles produced has always been small. It is much easier to find the Ruta offering from Nardini, one of the largest producers of grappa in the world. That Ruta is widely available in the New York area, and usually not more than about $45 for a liter bottle. It is also my favorite product from amongst Nardini's range, and I think a good introduction to Ruta infused distillates. I generally prefer to drink these neat, at room temperature, although I suspect the addition of ice and club soda might be refreshing in the summer months. On the other hand, drinking Grappa alla Ruta with espresso is not so much enjoyable as a good way to prove that you are especially perverse.
Recently I visited a friend in upstate New York who cultivates a Ruta garden. He enjoys to make his own house infused grappa alla Ruta, and interestingly he chooses the normal Nardini grappa as the base with which to do so. This got me to thinking as to why this might be. After all, if you are making it yourself, you could choose any grappa base that you desire. There are other grappas available that are smoother and more refined than Nardini's. But I have decided that maybe a rougher texture to a grappa better supports the flavor of these shrubs as they seek out crevices to root in. Certainly, grappa from Levi Serafino is not smooth either.