Peru’s warm valleys spread throughout the coastal region from Lima to Tacna, produce the finest grape distillate in the world, a beverage filled with flavor, aroma, and body with a clear, transparent, almost celestial appearance which serves as a pere prelude to the remarkable experience that is tasting it.
In all the world no other spirit is made in the same way as Peruvian pisco, which is produced exclusively from the pure juice of grapes, known as must, fermented and distilled without the addition of any other ingredient. It is this formula, strictly adhered to since the 17th century, which has made pisco the truly fascinating and unique drink that it is today.
Unlike other fine spirits, Peruvian pisco is kept free of all additives, so that the purity of the grape is conserved and magically transformed in the bottle, with no water or colorants to distract from its essence, and no call for oak, barrel aging, for any such process would be, quite simply, superfluous. That is the key to pisco’s noble nature and exceptional virtues.
Obviously, to really appreciate pisco, one must try it. No explanation could possibly match the experience of drinking it, but a good description of its characteristics as a product may serve as a useful foretaste of what awaits us in the glass.
According to the Peruvian technical standards that govern production, pisco is a spirt obtained from the fermented must, aka freach wine of pisco producing varieties of grape, which is distilled in traditional copper pot stills, using a batch distillation process. The resulting distillate is then left for three or four months to rest after which it is bottled.
This might lead onth think that pisco is therefore, in essence, similar to many other spirits made from thefriut of the vine, but this is not the case. Its uniqueness, as we have said resides in the absence of outside influences that would adulterate the natural contribution of the grape.
In the case of pisco, however, the grapes are harvested especially for this purpose and only grapes are used to make must, so that the result possesses an unequaled quality and pure grape juice.
Pisco cannot be made with any kind of grapes. In Peru there are eight types of pisco-producing grape. They are grown in different regions, while variations in climatic and soil conditions mean that in each zone they reach their own greatest expressions.
These varieties have been classified into two broad groups: aromatic and non-aromatic. The former are noted above all for their scent, which lends the pisco those aromatic qualities that provide such delight when one holds the glass close to one’s nose. For their part, the so-called non-aromatic varieties are not completely devoid of aroma, but nor is this the quality for which they are best-known; their virutes lie more in the body and structure possessed by the piscos they produce.
The aromatic varities include Italia – which is not only used in vitiviniculture but also as a table grape -as well as Moscatel, Albilla and Torontel. The non-aromatic varieties include Negra Criolla, Mollar, Uvina and, finally, Quebranta, which is the queen of this type of grape and emblematic of the Ica region the ancestral home of pisco.
Like the Holy Trinity itself, pisco is a single entity expressed in three forms, for there exist three great categories of Peru’s national drink: puro, acholado and mosto verde.
First, there is pisco puro, which is obtained from a single variety of grape and is therefore, what it might be termed a “single malt”. In the early days of pisco production in the Ica region, it was made primarily from Quebranta grapes, which is why pisco made soley from this variety was known for a long time as “puro de Ica”.
Next there is acholado, created from two or more types of pisco-producing grape, resulting in what we might call a “blended” pisco, characterized by its combination of the virtues of different aromatic and non-aromatic varieties.
Finally we have pisco mosto verde, which is infact the most splendid pisco of all, a true “super premium” beverage.
The remarkable qualities of mosto verde are derived from the production process, when the grape must is transferred to the still for distillation before the fermentation process is concluded, so that much of the natural sugar contained in the grape is conserved, rather than being fully converted into alcohol.
In this way, upon distillation the still-sweet and incompletely fermented wine is transformed into a silken, velvety pisco of remarkable smoothness. In order to achieve this exquisite result, a greater quality of grapes is required; while five or six kilos of fruit produces on average one liter of pisco, mosot verde requires eight or nine kilos per liter. This additional investment is fully justified by the happy outcome, which is resolutely confirmed upon tasting. When we speak of mosto verde, then, we are evoking a luxury pisco, sophisticated and dazzling with a beautiful aromatic structure an extremely delicate flavor, and never ending after taste.