May 12, 2019
Interview with Fernando Gonzales-Lattini, a sommelier specialized in pisco, vigneron and producer of premium wine in the Peruvian Andes.
How do you taste pisco and train your palate?
“To properly taste a pisco, you need a pisco snifter, like the photo shown above. In a tasting, a sommelier always evaluates 3 aspects: appearance, aroma and flavor. First, take a look at how the pisco looks. A good pisco must be clear and dense. Swirl the pisco around in the snifter to test its viscosity. A viscid pisco will form thick legs on the side of the glass. This is an indication that the pisco is full-bodied and has a good ratio of alcohol/glycerol. Transparency is also very important. Hold the glass up to the light to observe its color. Peruvian pisco is clear when it runs off the still, nothing is added to it, and it isn’t aged in barrels. For those reasons, it should be as clear as water in the bottle.
To detect aromas, I always recommend that people waft toward their noses instead of smelling directly from the snifter. If you inhale too closely, you can overwhelm your sense of smell, making it impossible to distinguish aromas. Piscos made from different grapes will have different descriptors. For example, a quebranta will commonly smell like banana, mango, pecans and raisins. An aromatic pisco like Italia will smell like fruit and flowers such as jasmine. Once you have observed the aromas and appearance, it’s time to taste.
When you taste a pisco, it should feel smooth in your mouth and throat. At no time should you feel a burning or harsh sensation. Identify in your mouth what flavors it has. You should be able to taste the same aromas that you smelled. For example, if you smelled pecans, you should taste pecans. You might be able to discover other flavors too, so pay close attention to how the flavors might change at different stages in the tasting process.
This is the general idea of how to conduct a pisco tasting. Remember that it takes practice to detect the different flavors and aromas of piscos. The more you do it, the easier it will become.”
How would you explain what pisco tastes like to someone who has never tried it?
“Pisco tastes like grapes because it’s made from grapes. There are more than 15 pounds of grapes in every bottle of regular pisco. It would be impossible for this immense amount of fruit to not express itself in the final product. When you taste pisco, you should also note other nuances like fresh fruit such as banana and mango.”
In your opinion, what makes Peruvian pisco special?
“Pisco is unique because it comes from very high-quality, aromatic organic material: grapes. Compared to other liquors made from grains or potatoes, grapes are so much more aromatic and flavorful in their raw form. The single distillation method used to make Peruvian pisco also allows the full gamut of flavors and aromas to show up in this high quality spirit.
I am a sommelier and I own my own vineyard. Needless to say, I love wine. I think pisco should be appreciated like a fine wine. There are more than 300 descriptors for wine. When you distill wine to make pisco, you concentrate those flavors and aromas even more. The terroir of the vineyards should also be appreciated in every bottle.”
What do you want the world to know about Peruvian pisco?
“People need to try this premium spirit. I guarantee they will be impressed, especially if they are wine-lovers. I can’t emphasize enough the parallels between the two. Just like wine, one can distinguish the characteristics of different grape varieties, vintages, and terroir of pisco. It also pairs beautifully with food.
Tradition is also very important in Peru. We have been making pisco for hundreds of years, which has many benefits. First, we have traditions passed on from generation to generation. Second, we have been perfecting the art of pisco making and selecting the vest vines for centuries. We know what regions are most apt for grape growing and what production methods are best. It’s like winemaking in France- their current methods are based on hundreds of years of tradition.”
You are interested in terroir and how it affects a wine. What can you say about the terroir at Azpitia?
“Azpitia is interesting because it has sandy soils that can be extremely challenging for viticulture. Nati does an excellent job of working with the conditions there to grow high quality grapes. PiscoLogía’s vineyards in the Mala Valley are at a higher altitude and they are strategically located to allow them to be cooled by the Pacific Ocean breeze. This effect gives the grapes more concentrated flavors and better acidity. Higher quality grapes make a better quality wine, which in turn, makes a better pisco.
I also appreciate Azpitia because it is a very small production region. There are maybe 100 hectares maximum of small farms. That small size, in addition to its unique terroir, makes the pisco crafted there even more rare and special.”
What’s your favorite pairing with pisco?
“My favorite pairing is a quebranta pisco with suspiro a la limeña, a famous Peruvian dessert. In this combination, the sweetness and creaminess of the suspiro are balanced out with the alcohol from the pisco. It’s a perfect fusion between the sugar in the dessert and the fruitiness of the pisco.”
Finally, you have observed Nati during production and you have tasted her final product. What can you say about Nati as a professional?
“I admire Nati for many reasons. First, she is so meticulous in her viticulture practices. In the winemaking world, everyone knows that to make a good wine, you must start in the vineyards. Only high-quality grapes can make a good wine. In the case of pisco, distillation is just one step further in the process. That means the way you care for your grapes translates directly into your pisco. Many pisco producers in Peru buy grapes, but PiscoLogía is made from 100% estate-grown grapes. That allows for Nati to have strict quality control throughout the entire process.
I also like how Nati adheres to tradition and she strictly follows the Denomination of Origin. By demanding a high quality product and never compromising her standards, she is setting the bar for other producers in all of Peru.
Finally, Nati and her team hand select every grape that goes into every bottle of pisco. They also use selective pressing techniques to maximize each grape, but without adding bitterness from the seeds. Nothing is arbitrary in her process. The methodical steps she takes really shine through in the final result- a pisco of Premier Grand Cru quality.”