Grapes are the fruit snack of childhood and, in adulthood, the fruit snack that ferments into delicious and more expensive grape juice that we call wine.
With the growing popularity and interest of wine, many people have learned what it takes to create this sweet elixir: the harvesting, the de-stemming, the punch down, the barreling, the racking, the fermentation cycle, the yeast addition, the bottling, the drinking, etc. Although I am consistently demonstrating an increased interest in winemaking every day, I have found an interest in other ways we consume this precious fruit: the grape.
On Tuesday I was able to join a pisco tasting. I found that when I mentioned this event that happened during my week many people responded with, “What’s pisco?”
A grape based liquid that hasn’t been integrated into society as well as wine. Other responses to my pisco tasting was: “Oh, you tasted Brandy?” Because of America’s Spanish settlers and massive Italian immigration before our country’s independence, we were graced with their farming practices of growing grapes and with it, their cultural use of those grapes: fermentation.
In South America, specifically Peru, the cultural use of their grapes is distillation. The word pisco has a loose terminology among other countries such as Argentina that tends to define any kind of distillation with grapes. In Peru and America, pisco is specifically a grape based spirit that has only been distilled once and has no other additives. Unlike Brandy, which requires being distilled at least twice and then aged in oak barrels or colored with caramel, pisco is clear in color and leans toward more of wine aromas and tastes. The first pisco I tasted came from the grapes Quebranta, a common grape varietal that comes from South America. This had a lot of stone fruit smells and dark fruit and rich soil tastes, of course accompanied with the heat of liquor. The third pisco came from the grapes Moscatel, which usually makes a sweet and slightly sparkling wine, and had a strong smell of a Riesling and Freisha, tasting of apricots, grapefruit, and Lychee. The second was a blend of 5 different varietals and surprisingly had the same mouth feel as a Bordeaux or Rhone blend. If you’ve been able to determine this taste with wines, you would be able to appreciate it in Pisco. So, it occurred to me that these characteristics that we bend over backwards to find in wine are common characteristics of the grape itself, rather than the characteristics induced by the winemaker. Therefore, it may not matter who created your libation, it matters what type of varietal it is and where it came from.
Besides this little epiphany that dawned on me, I would recommend the exploration of tasting the other products made from grapes (wine, port, pisco, brandy, cognac) and compare your tasting notes. In my opinion, pisco really highlights the main characteristics and you will find a handful of main descriptors compared to the thousands within wine. But try it yourself!