You never know when the opportunity presents itself to learn more about wine. A month ago, while in Las Vegas, I asked our Peruvian driver about wines in his country. Fifteen minutes later I was a certified expert on the Peruvian national spirit, Pisco, and its companion drink the Pisco Sour. When the Spaniards conquered South American, they carried with them Quebranta grape vines and found a suitable climate to plant these in the Ica Valley. Eventually, the recently fermented grape juice or musts from these grapes were distilled into a clear brandy: Pisco. The name “Pisco” most likely derives from the port city of Pisco, 250 km south of Lima.
There are 4 recognized types of Pisco:
· Pure: distilled only from Quebranta grapes. Other non-aromatic varieties are officially accepted (non-aromatic Normal Black and the Mollar), but our driver warned, only Pisco from Quebranta grapes can be called Pure. It’s easy to see why the Quebranta grape is beloved by the Peruvian people. Its vine is so hardy that, today, the stocks are used as graft bearers for other grape varieties.
· Aromatic: distilled from aromatic grapes derived from the family of muscatels.
· Green Must: originated from the distillation of grape musts in fermentation process (this refers to the musts in which sugar has not been transformed into alcohol)
· Acholado: results from the distillation of musts of different grape varieties.
Our driver also warned us about Piscos made from outside of Peru. He informed us of five main features which distinguish true Peruvian Pisco from those distilled outside the country. For this list, he recommended an article in which I am quoting directly: “Peruvian Gastronomy - The Pisco - Differences between Pisco and other grape “aguardientes” made outside Peru” made available by the Peruvian Embassy.
1. The grape variety: One of the most important differences between the genuine Pisco and foreign aguardientes is that the grape used for its preparation –artisan and industrial- is not limited to the aromatic grape “Moscatel”. Actually, the emphasis is put on the flavor or in the aroma. This is why the most common grape types are “Quebranta” (a typically Peruvian mutation) and, in less percentage, the Normal Black and the Mollar, which are non-aromatic varieties.
2. Non-rectification of steams: The distillation process used for preparing Pisco is carried out in distilleries or small stills of non-continuous operation, not in continuous distilleries. Thus, the constituting elements of the genuine Pisco will not be removed at the time of rectifying steams produced at its distillation.
3. Time between fermentation of musts and distillation process: According to the definition of Pisco, this beverage is obtained from the distillation of recently fermented “fresh” musts. This type of process avoids recently fermented musts to remain stagnant for several months before being distilled or used for mature wines. Nowadays, distilleries for preparing Pisco should meet the requirements required by the Committee of Supervision of Technical Regulations, Metrology, Quality Control and Tariff restrictions of the National Institute for the Protection of Intellectual Property and Free Competition (INDECOPI).
4. No aggregate is included: In Peru, the distillation process is not suspended until obtaining the alcoholic Pisco at levels of 42° - 43° degrees Gay-Lusac. No distilled or treated water is added with the purpose of changing its consistency, color and other features that make it a distinctive product.
5. Process to obtain the established alcoholic content: When distillation of fresh musts starts, the alcoholic contents of the distilled product is high, reaching 75° degrees Gay-Lusac approximately. As the process continues, the alcoholic content decreases, thus, allowing other constituting elements of Pisco to make up the brandy. According to the skills and tradition of the Peruvian “pisquero”, this process lasts until the alcoholic content decreases to about 42° or 43°, sometimes decreasing to 38° degrees Gay-Lusac.
They obviously take their Pisco seriously in Peru. In fact, our trip to Las Vegas coincided with a special Peruvian holiday, National Pisco Sour day, which occurs annually the first Saturday in February. So, the moral of this article is to engage your driver in a conversation on drinks from their homeland and to raise a glass to a Pisco Sour. You will not be disappointed. Below is a simple recipe.
Pisco Sour recipe
3 parts pisco brandy
1 1/2 parts lemon juice
1 - 2 tbsp sugar