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.
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.
This is the 11th in a series mythbusters to clarify misconceptions about Peruvian pisco!
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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 flavors: Lime, mandarin, flowers, orange blossom & tropical fruit
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
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.
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.
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!
Jiménez, Jorge. “Uvas Moscateles En El Pisco .” Excella by Andrea Bruno, https://www.excella-andreabruno.com/articulo.php?articulo=43.
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.
To understand the difference between Acholado and Quebranta, one must first understand what Peruvian pisco is. Peruvian pisco is a clear brandy made from 100% grapes. That means it is a fine wine that is distilled once and then aged in neutral casks.
Quebranta is a grape variety used to make Peruvian pisco, just like Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay are types of wine grapes. In Peru, there are 8 grapes used in pisco production: Quebranta, Negra Criolla, Mollar, Uvina (non-aromatic) and Italia, Torontel, Moscatel, and Albilla (aromatic). In Spanish, a pisco made with a single variety of grape is called “pisco puro”.
Acholado means “blend”. If a pisco is an Acholado, it is made from either a blend of two or more types of grapes or from a blend of single variety piscos. Nati, our master distiller, mixes a perfect concoction of Quebranta and Italia grapes to create our PiscoLogía Acholado. Here is more information about the two:
Flavors: Matured dried currant & bananas
Aromas: Pecan and orange blossom
Pair with: Semi-sweet chocolate
Cocktail suggestion: “Eggs Benedictine”
2 oz. PiscoLogía Acholado
1 oz. Pineapple Syrup
1 oz. Lime
.5 oz Benedictine
Fresh grated nutmeg (garnish)
Shake vigorously in a shaker and serve on the rocks
Aromas: Grassy, herbal, carmelized banana
Flavors: Toasted almonds, pecans, tart green apples