Deciphering the DNA of Pisco Grapes

Pisco has captivated connoisseurs around the world with its rich history and diverse flavors. At the heart of this beloved spirit lies the DNA of pisco grapes, a topic that has fascinated specialists and enthusiasts alike. In this blog post, we embark on a journey to explore the genetic makeup of pisco grapes and the intriguing complexities that surround them.

The Ever-Evolving World of Pisco Grape DNA: In our first version of the Pisco Certificate course back in 2020, we delved into the intricate genealogy of pisco grapes, referencing the work of Jorge Jiménez, who drew from research conducted by Jorge Llanos and Jancis Robinson, among others. We even shared a family tree of pisco grapes created by Nico Vera based on this knowledge.

Since then, additional specialists such as Amanda Barnes, Karl Mendoza, and their teams have unearthed new findings about the DNA of pisco grapes, adding fascinating layers to the narrative. As you can see in the image (click to zoom), some of their research is conflicting. The question is why.Grapes Pisco DNA

The Complexity of Pisco Grape Evolution: The complexities surrounding pisco grape DNA are as multifaceted as the grapevines themselves. Here are some key factors contributing to the contradictory information:

  1. Constant Evolution: Pisco grapes are agricultural products, and the grapevines are in a state of constant change. These vines can cross-pollinate through various means like wind, insects, and self-pollination. Over centuries, the grape varieties originally brought from Spain have naturally crossbred, giving rise to the intriguing diversity we see today.
  2. Unidentified Cultivars: Another challenge is the presence of unidentified and unnamed grape cultivars in Peru. These unique and unclassified varieties add an element of mystery to the DNA puzzle.

What We Can Assume to be True: Based on the confirmed findings of prominent researchers, some aspects of pisco grape DNA seem more certain. We can assume that:

  1. Quebranta is a cross between the Mollar grape and Negra Criolla, representing Peru’s only indigenous vinifera variety.
  2. Negra Criolla is a synonym for Listán Prieto, the first grape variety planted in Peru.
  3. Mollar has DNA similarities with other grapes with similar names, though the exact match varies.
  4. Uvina is a hybrid grape, formed by the crossing of vitis vinifera and vitis aestivalis.

Outlining the Discrepancies: However, discrepancies persist in the pisco grape DNA narrative:

  1. The origins of the Italia grape remain widely disputed.
  2. Torontel is another grape with differing views on its lineage.
  3. Palomino Fino, associated with Sherry production in Spain, presents contrasting interpretations.
  4. Moscatel remains one of the most mysterious grapes in the pisco world.

A Complicated Subject Indeed: Despite differing opinions among researchers, they all agree on one thing: the DNA of pisco grapes is an exceptionally intricate subject. As Karl Mendoza’s research aptly puts it, “Within the genetic resource of each region, several synonyms and homonyms remain to be clarified… making it difficult to assess the value of a given cultivar in a region.”

Conclusion: So, as we navigate this world of complex pisco grape DNA, we invite you to embark on your own exploration. Draw your conclusions, conduct your research, and most importantly, savor the diverse origins of Peru’s beloved pisco grapes.

Pisco Certificate Course- Lesson 1: Overview of Pisco

When the first wine was made in 1551, it marked the beginning of a new enological era in the New World. However, it wouldn’t have been possible without the agricultural prowess of Peru’s natives, who were experts in cultivating and irrigating the arid coast. Their expertise and manpower, combined with the demanding manual labor & agricultural knowledge of African slaves, made grape-growing highly successful in Peru.

By the end of the 16th century, the popularity of Peruvian wine posed a formidable threat to the Spanish wine industry. In an attempt to hinder wine production in Peru, Spanish royalty imposed high taxes, banned Peruvian wine in their colonies and prohibited the planting of new vines in Peru. However, they weren’t successful until 1641, when King Philip The Fourth prohibited the importation of Peruvian wine to Spain, cutting Peruvian vintners off from one of their last remaining markets.

Instead of abandoning their vines, locals began to use the grapes to make brandy. In the tradition of the Old World’s firewater, they called this grape distillate “aguardiente de uva”, following alchemical methods from the Middle Ages. Eventually, the name changed to “pisco”.

Over time, the viticultural knowledge of the Spanish blended with agricultural traditions passed down from the Incas and African laborers. Years of trial and error led to diversification and selection of the best varieties, identification of optimal regions for grape growing and improved production practices. These factors, along with a climate favorable to grape growing, have allowed Peruvians to proudly craft their national beverage for hundreds of years.

Pisco is defined by the Denomination of Origin as “the product obtained from the distillation of fresh musts of recently fermented pisco grapes”. If you are new to pisco, you might not know what musts are. Must is freshly crushed grape juice that may contain some skins, seeds and possibly some stems. Depending on their preferences, master distillers in Perú may leave some skins, seeds and stems in the must during maceration.

Maceration is the process of soaking all or some of the skins, seeds and stems to extract aromas and flavors from the skins and transfer them to the juice. According to the Peruvian Technical Standards, fermentation may occur with or without maceration, or with partial or total maceration of the pomace. It depends on the preferences of the master distiller.  However, the must has to be separated from the pomace before distillation because ONLY wine can be distilled in Peruvian pisco production.

The rich history of pisco shows in the traditions performed throughout the entire pisco-making process, starting with agricultural and spiritual practices in the vineyards and ending when the pisco is consumed. We will cover every my noot detail of those processes in this course, but for now, let’s talk about harvest.

Harvest of pisco grapes happens in Fall in Perú, typically in March or April. The ripe berries are plucked from the vines, giving the master distiller the raw materials needed to craft the perfect batch. The grapes are destemmed and crushed and maceration may or may not occur. With the help of yeasts, the sugar converts the grape juice to alcohol and the juice becomes wine, ready for distillation.

Making pisco is a demonstration of the craft, skill and scientific knowledge of the distiller.  While the wine heats up, boils, evaporates and then condenses into pisco through a scientific process, intuition tells the distiller when to cut the heads from the tails, how to manage the environment, to regulate temperatures and make other very important decisions to obtain a quality product.

Once distillation has converted the wine to pisco, the brandy must rest a minimum of 3 months in neutral vessels such as stainless steel or fiberglass. This makes pisco completely transparent and unaltered, allowing you to fully appreciate the original identity of the spirit. After resting, it can be bottled and is ready for consumption.

Peruvian pisco is unique because it is distilled only one time, making it different from other brandies that are distilled more than once and watered down to proof. That means a master distiller has only one chance to craft an exceptional pisco at the desired proof. However, the ABV must be between 38 and 48%, according to the Denomination of Origin in Perú.

Since nothing is added to Peruvian pisco, that means there is only one ingredient in the bottle: grapes. So, just how many grapes are in one bottle? On average, there are an incredible 7.5 kilos, 16.5 pounds packed in one bottle of puro or acholado, the most common types of pisco. On your screen, you can see how that compares to wine and mosto verde piscos. Next time you go to the grocery store, try to buy 16.5 pounds of grapes and you will get an idea of just how many grapes that is!

Myth #12- Acholado piscos must be made from a mix of aromatic and non-aromatic grapes

This is the 12th in a series mythbusters to clarify misconceptions about Peruvian pisco!

 

Acholados can be made from a blend of any of the 8 grapes permitted by the D.O. in Peru. The blend does not need to contain both aromatic and non-aromatic grapes.

 

Another myth about pisco that requires clarification is the notion that an acholado must be made from a blend of at least one aromatic grape and one non-aromatic grape. To address this myth, we turned to Pepe Moquillaza, Liquid Story Teller, brand Ambassador and maestro pisquero, who stated: “traditionally an acholado was made from Quebranta and a mix of aromatic grapes. However, this wasn’t enforced in the legislation of the Denomination of Origin, so that requirement is no longer. Now you can mix grapes, fermented must or piscos of any of the 8 grape types permitted by the D.O.”

Here are the D.O. rules for acholados:

4.3 Pisco acholado is obtained from a mix of:

  • Pisco grapes, aromatic and non-aromatic
  • Musts of aromatic and non-aromatic pisco grapes
  • Completely fermented fresh musts (wine) of aromatic and non-aromatic pisco grapes.
  • Piscos made from aromatic and non-aromatic pisco grapes.

 

And just a reminder, those pisco grapes are: Quebranta, Negra Criolla, Mollar, Uvina (non-aromatic) and Albilla, Italia, Torontel and Moscatel (aromatic).

So there you have it- one can find all types of acholado piscos in Peru, and blends made from solely non-aromatic or aromatic grapes are permitted. The end result in the bottle comes down to the vineyard and the preferences of the master distiller.

All the Peruvian Pisco Grapes- Quebranta, Italia and 6 Others

The 4 aromatic pisco grapes are Albilla, Torontel, Italia and Moscatel. The 4 non-aromatic grapes are Quebranta, Uvina, Mollar and Negra Criolla. But before we explore each variety, first let’s talk about the 2 categories of pisco grapes: aromatic and non-aromatic. While the latter categorization might imply that some piscos lack aromas, it should be clarified that all varieties of Peruvian pisco have very expressive aromas. This often creates confusion for people not familiar with Peruvian pisco. They understandably expect a “non-aromatic” pisco to not have any aromas.

All the Peruvian pisco grapes have highly aromatic qualities because of production methods required by the Denomination of Origin in Peru. First, the single distillation method helps bring out the unique aromatic profile of each grape variety. Then, resting in neutral casks enhances aromas while preserving the pisco’s original identity. This is different than spirits that age in barrels whose flavors and aromas are altered by wood. Please watch the video below for more information.

 

 

Myth #11- Quebranta is the strongest and most flavorful of all pisco grapes

This is the 11th in a series mythbusters to clarify misconceptions about Peruvian pisco!

quebranta, pisco, pisco grapes, quebranta most flavorful

 

Quebranta is indeed a very flavorful variety, but so are the other 7 Peruvian pisco grapes.

 

Let’s first address the idea that the Quebranta grape is the strongest of all the Peruvian pisco grapes. This statement brings up a lot of questions, such as: What does “strength” refer to? Does it refer to the strength of the flavor of the Quebranta grape? Or perhaps it refers to the robustness of the Quebranta plant? Or maybe this is a misconception of the alcoholic strength of the final product?

The Quebranta plant is Peru’s only indigenous vitis vinifera variety and it has indeed adapted very well to the climate and soils in Peru. However, from a standpoint of durability or longevity, the Negra Criolla (Listán Prieto) variety was the first to be planted in Peru sometime between 1539 and 1541. Therefore, because Negra Criolla has been around for longer in Peru, it would technically win the contest of longevity.

Furthermore, potency of the alcohols in a pisco depend not on the grape type, but on the sugar levels of the grapes used in fermentation. We all know that a pisco can have a maximum ABV of 48%. You can have pisco at 48% ABV made from any of the 8 grapes allowed in the production of Peruvian pisco, not just Quebranta. To reach the desired sugar levels, and therefore the desired alcohol levels of the final product, vintners will aim to reach around 23-26 Brix before harvesting. This measurement is taken with a refractometer. Then finally, proper distillation methods also help regulate the alcohol content.

Second, it is difficult to defend or refute the notion that Quebranta is the most flavorful grape because the concept of taste is very subjective. What may seem flavorful to one person could be bland to another. It would require years of qualitative research and surveying to determine which grape is the most flavorful.

Making scientific measurements of flavor requires the implementation of complicated processes. Techniques such as solvent extraction and headspace methods would be required to identify and qualify methoxypyrazines and non-volatile, glycosylated conjugates of volatile molecules in grapes, among many other elements. Then to analyze, one would need to conduct gas-liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry. Furthermore, soil, climate and traditions also greatly impact flavor expression, regardless of the grape variety. All of those factors would need to be studied and compared before making a general statement about the flavor of Quebranta grapes.

Put simply, the most flavorful pisco grapes are the ones that have been tended to carefully throughout the year and the whole production process. Those grapes are most flavorful when they are recently harvested and have the desired Brix levels. Needless to say, it is a very weak argument to say that the Quebranta grape is the strongest and most flavorful grape without any data or research to back it up. In our opinion, all the Peruvian pisco grapes are strong, flavorful and so unique that they should each be appreciated as such.

 

Sources:

Williams, P. J., and M. S. Allen. “The Analysis of Flavouring Compounds in Grapes.” SpringerLink, Springer-Verlag, Berlin,    Heidelberg, 1 Jan. 1996, link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-642-79660-9_3.

A sommelier talks Peruvian Pisco: Part 2

best pisco, how to make pisco, pisco harvest

 

 

This is part 2 of a series of interviews with Fernando Gonzales-Lattini, a sommelier specialized in pisco, vigneron and producer of premium wine in the Peruvian Andes.

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 best 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.”

Learn About All the Peruvian Pisco Grapes

In Peru, the eight grapes used in pisco production are separated into 2 categories: aromatic and non-aromatic. While the latter categorization might imply that some piscos lack aromas, we would like to clarify that all varieties of Peruvian pisco are highly aromatic. This is due to the production methods required by the Denomination of Origin in Peru. First, Peruvian pisco is distilled one time, which helps bring out the unique aromatic profile of each grape variety. Then it is aged in neutral casks, which enhances the aromas while preserving the original identity of the clear spirit.

In this post, we will list the flavors and aromas of each grape variety used in the production of Peruvian pisco: Quebranta, Negra Criolla, Uvina & Mollar (non-aromatic) and Italia, Torontel, Moscatel, and Albilla (aromatic).

Note: These are general tasting notes, as every pisco is different, depending on the region, the terroir of the vineyards and the methods of the distiller.

Quebranta

Peruvian pisco, quebranta, acholado, how make pisco

Origin: The Quebranta grape is a cross between Negra Criolla and Mollar grapes. It is the most common grape used in pisco production in Peru.

Pisco aromas: Banana, hay, lucuma, passionfruit, raisins, orange peel, dried grass & chocolate

Pisco flavors: Apple, hay, vanilla, peach, citrus, syrup, pecans, almonds

 

Negra criolla

negra criolla, listan prieto, pisco grape

Origin: Spain. AKA Listan Prieto. It’s a cross between Muscat of Alexandria and another unknown vitis vinifera.

Pisco aromas: Dried grass, apples, peaches, honey & chocolate

Pisco flavors:  Spices, raisins, cocoa & caramel

 

Uvina

uvina, uvina pisco, uvina grape

Origin: Rootstock from the USA or France (possibly Summer grape or Winter grape) and another unknown vitis vinifera. It is similar to Quebranta, but Uvina is known for its green olive nuances.

Pisco aromas: Green olives, mango & banana

Pisco flavors: Green olives, berries & mango

 

Mollar

mollar, peruvian pisco

Origin: Andalucia, Spain. AKA Mollar Cano, Mollar de Cádiz, Mollar de Granada & Mollar de Huelva. It is very similar to the Quebranta grape.

Pisco aromas: Honey, floral, apple & banana

Pisco flavors: Pear, apple, almond & banana

 

Italia

acholado, quebranta, types of pisco, singani, chilean pisco

Origin: A cross between Muscat of Hamburg and Bican grapes. It was created in Italy in 1911 by Luigi and Alberto Pirovano.

Pisco aromas: Tropical fruit, mango, pineapple, peach, jasmine & rose petals

Pisco flavors:  Lime, mandarin, flowers, orange blossom & tropical fruit

 

Torontel

torontel, pisco grapes, pisco

Origin: Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains. AKA Torrontés.

Pisco aromas: Flowers such as geranium, jasmine and magnolia, citrus, orange blossom & tropical fruit

Pisco flavors:  Citrus, honey, tropical fruit & toffee

Moscatel

moscatel, muscat. pisco grape

Origin: There is dispute about the origins of Peruvian Moscatel grapes. One theory is that it comes from the Muscat Rose à Petits Grains grape (Jiménez). This muscat grape is not to be confused with Italia, even though they are from the same family.

Pisco aromas: Vanilla, chestnuts, jasmine & mandarin

Pisco flavors: Peach, apple, flowers, cinnamon and spicy pepper

 

Albilla

albilla, pisco grapes

Origin: Spain. AKA Albillo Real

Pisco aromas:  Lime, lemongrass, peach, apple, vanilla & cinnamon

Pisco flavors: Honey, peach, pineapple & apple

 

Sources:

“Italia (Grape).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 7 May 2015, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Italia_(grape).

Jiménez, Jorge. “Uvas Moscateles En El Pisco .” Excella by Andrea Bruno, https://www.excella-andreabruno.com/articulo.php?articulo=43.

“Noches De Cata Con Pisco ‘Cata Descriptiva’ .” El Pisco Es Del Perú, Feb. 2012, elpiscoesdelperu.com/web/boletin.php?ver=detnot&id=143&idboletin=101&idC=zoyeca@yahoo.com.

Vera, Nico. “Genealogy of Pisco Grape Varietals.” Pisco Trail, 2018, www.piscotrail.com/.

The DNA of Peruvian Pisco grapes

It is widely know that the Spaniards brought the first grape to Peru on one of their voyages across the Atlantic. In this post, we would like to dig deeper into this subject, citing the research of some of the most involved pisco specialists. What exactly was the first grape varietal to be planted in Peru? What are the current variations of this original vine? According to Jorge Jiménez, in his article “Uvas Moscateles en el Pisco” on Andrea Bruno’s “Excella” website, Peru’s first grape was the Negra Criolla varietal. Negra Criolla is the Peruvian name for Listan Prieto, which has origins in Spain’s Canary Islands.

Jiménez further explains that the famous Peruvian Quebranta grape is a cross between this Negra Criolla and Mollar, an Andalusian grape, and that most Peruvian pisco grapes belong to the Muscat family:

  • Torontel (Moscatel de Grano Menudo/Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains)
  • Italia (cross between Bicane with Moscatel de Hamburgo)
  • Negra Criolla o Rosa del Perú (cross between Moscatel de Alejandría and a vitis vinífera)
  • Quebranta (cross between Negra Criolla and Mollar)

 

To clarify the genealogy of pisco grape varietals even more, we would like to share this diagram made by our good friend Nico Vera. Nico Vera is founder of the “Pisco Trail” blog and Pisco Society.

 

 

pisco grape varietals, negra criolla, moscatel, peruvian pisco, craft pisco, piscologia, types of pisco grapes, quebranta, acholado

 

The next time you drink Peruvian pisco, you will know the history of Uvina, Quebranta, Italia, Torontel, Albilla, Mollar, Negra Criolla and Moscatel grapes! Salud!

 

Sources:

 

Jiménez, Jorge. “Uvas Moscateles En El Pisco .” Excella by Andrea Bruno, https://www.excella-andreabruno.com/articulo.php?articulo=43.

 

Vera, Nico. “Genealogy of Pisco Grape Varietals.” Pisco Trail, 2018, www.piscotrail.com/.

 

Milennials, the Craft Spirits Movement and PiscoLogia

hand harvest, pisco grapes, quebranta, acholado, piscologia, peruvian pisco, craft pisco, craft liquor, craft spirits

 

Several recent studies have shown that Millennials are drinking less alcohol in the USA, Australia, the U.K., and many European countries (Pattani). According to Forbes, Millennial drinkers are also paying more for higher quality “craft” beer and spirits (Nurin). We feel Millenials’ demand for specialty booze is setting a positive trend for the future, so let’s discuss what “craft” means and how it relates to PiscoLogía.

 

What is craft liquor? In our opinion, the authority on this subject is Craft Distillers. They describe the craft method as: “the creative individuality of a single human being working with small, hand-operated equipment”. They also mention that these methods are the antithesis of large-production spirits, as they reflect the authenticity, experience, personal attention, and love of one’s work. We apply all these principles when making our quebranta and acholado.

 

The craft nature of PiscoLogía starts from the moment the vines are planted and it ends when our pisco is consumed. Everything is completed by hand, including planting, pruning, harvesting, selecting, crushing, distilling, filtering, bottling and labeling. We believe the process continues when our quebranta and acholado are mixed in beautiful cocktails by an experienced bartender and enjoyed by you. Here are more details about each component:

 

 

Pruning: We prune by hand, usually in July or August (winter in Azpitia). Using manual techniques gives the plants a more gentle & meticulous treatment and avoids overcropping. Many large companies prune mechanically to save money. However, we will always prune by hand because it provides jobs for people we care about.

 

Estate-grown grapes: We personally care for our vineyards to provide maximum quality control of our grapes. Tending to our own estate-grown grapes also ensures that no excess pesticides and fungicides are used on the plants. This investment of time pays off with our high-quality pisco.

 

Harvest: Our harvests are completed strictly by hand in early March. Hand-harvesting gives us the benefit of selecting every grape that goes into our pisco. This also allows us to harvest in small batches so the grapes can reach perfect sugar levels.

 

Crushing process: Crushing our grapes lightly by foot avoids breaking the seeds, which can give the wine we distill a bitter flavor.

 

Fermentation: Nati carefully monitors the fermentation process. She prefers to allow native yeasts to kickstart fermentation. These natural ambient yeasts (also called “bloom” or “blush”) allow the terroir of Azpitia to fully express itself in our pisco.

 

Small batch: Our wine is distilled in small batches in our 300L copper pot still. This allows us to control distillation more easily and it uses less energy.

 

The rest: From hand-labeling each bottle to social media posts, every part of this cycle is carried out by our workers and partners, making PiscoLogía is the most quintessential craft spirit. We can thank Millenials for helping us recognize the value of focusing on quality, not quantity. Hopefully the push toward craft spirits will be a trend that will continue in the future.

 

 

Sources:

Aneri Pattani. New study shows millennials are drinking less, enjoying it more”, Pittsburg Post-Gazette, 7 August 2018, https://www.post-gazette.com/news/health/2018/08/07/New-study-shows-millennials-drinking-less-pennsylvania/stories/201808060166

 

Nurin, Tara. “10 Trends That Will Determine Your Drinking In 2018”, Forbes, 31 January 2018, https://www.forbes.com/sites/taranurin/2018/01/31/ten-trends-that-will-determine-your-drinking-in-2018/#1b5113c42992

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