Yes, Peru has Machu Picchu--mystical Incan ruins once "hidden" in the Andes and designated one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Yes, Peru has the Nazca Lines--pre-Incan glyphs designated a UNESCO heritage site best appreciated from 2500 ft in the air. And, yes, Peru truly is the most bio-diverse of any country on Earth, with every eco-system imaginable located within its 500, 000 square miles.
But Peru has garnered long-overdue recognition of the gastronomic sort and is now considered one of the world’s most exciting culinary destinations. And while Chile and Argentina remain South America's largest markets, Peru's well-established Pisco and emerging wine industries are capitalizing on this worldwide spotlight.
Most expanding enotourism efforts are located in Ica, historically where the country’s best wine and Pisco are produced. A recent visit to this Southeastern region, demonstrates the recent investment in state-of-the art Pisco distillation and wine production facilities, modern tasting rooms, and education experiences for visitors. Strict adherence to quality standards and methods of wine and Pisco production, however, are unwavering.
At South America’s oldest vineyard Viña Tacama, historical legacy and modern wine-making go hand-in-hand. Founded by Spaniards in the 1500’s with vines from the Canary Islands, it supplied sacramental wines Peruvian Vice Royalty in Lima and Cusco. The winery also began to produce Pisco--a distilled brandy--when Spain prohibited Peruvian wine exportation in the 1700’s to protect their own markets.
A tour by Carlos Beltrán Arevalo, one of Peru’s rising sommeliers, yielded magnificent views of the winery's lush vineyards, production facilities, and a tasting of Tacama's award-winning wines. In the sleek, modern tasting lab, Carlos lauded the winery’s recent international acclaim. It’s clearly holding its own against top European producers.
The region’s best expression of its wine potential lies in reds made from the Tannat grape. Tacama’s Don Manuel 2015 Tannat is a shining example. With notes of blueberry, plum, and vanilla due to aging in French oak barrels, these wines will age well with tannins softening over time.
While Tacama’s wines aren’t available in town, a similar taste profile can be experienced with Tannat from Uruguay. Try a bottle of Artesana ($18.99) from local wine retailer Vino Garage. Aside from pairing wonderfully with steak and other meat dishes, this bold, spicy varietal is also considered the healthiest of all grapes due its high concentration of procyanidins.
The Spanish prohibition of Peruvian wine exportation forced those same winemakers to find alternative uses for their harvests and spurned what became a source of national pride. Today the United States is the second largest importer of Pisco, Peru’s world-renowned national brandy.
At El Catador, an artisanal distillery in the heart of the Ruta del Pisco, the 400-year old production process is on full display. Walking past antique botijas, or elongated clay pots used for aging, the guide explains the main types of Pisco: puro—made entirely from a single grape varietal; mosto verde—made from wine in which the fermentation was interrupted resulting in sweeter Pisco; and acholado—a blend of puro and mosto verde.
Ica’s unique hot, dry climate allows extremely sweet grape varietals to flourish. High sugar levels are necessary for the single distillation required by Peruvian law. Cocktails, such as the Pisco Sour, are usually made from puros derived from non-aromatic quebranta grapes, while mosto verde, now considered “top-shelf,” and acholado Piscos are more suited for sipping.
Fortunately, Pisco is readily available with local beverage stores carrying a several types and producers. Morganelli’s showcases Pisco Portón, the oldest and largest Pisco producer in Peru. Select La Caravedo ($27.99) for cocktails, and the more, aromatic and sweeter Acholado ($33.99) or Mosto Verde ($41.99) for sipping. Whether as a cocktail or over ice, Pisco is a wonderful accompaniment to ceviche, sushi, and light charcuterie plates.
And it may just put you in the mood to discover for yourself what all the fuss is about in Peru.
My “winederlust” glass overflows. Please contact me if you’d like to learn more about this trip to Peru. I’m passionate about wine and travel, but even more fervent about my desire to share it. I’d love to hear from you.