This is part 1 of a series of interviews 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 pisco. The more you do it, the more trained your nose and palate will become.”