Archive for the ‘World Wines’ Category

Peruvian Wine Adventure

March 27, 2010

By Lisa Stefan

Lisa’s adventures take her way down south, to Peru, where, like most other travelers, she heads to the southern portion of the country, where Cusco and Macchu Picchu act like magnets and attract every other foreigner. Most leave back to Lima’s airport and back home. Lisa, victim to her love of wine, takes a detour to check out the Peruvian wine capital, the Ica province….

“…After a week of exploring Cusco and the surrounding Inca ruins by bus, foot, bike and raft and an exhausting 4 day trek along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, I was in serious need of some R&R… and a glass of wine!  So, with 4 extra days to spare on my solo journey to Peru, I hopped on a bus and headed south to Huacachina, a movie-like oasis in Ica.

Ica, located 300 km south of Lima along the Pan-American highway, is considered the premier wine producing area of the country. The area is known by locals as “the land of the sun”, with a hot & dry climate year round this is the perfect place to grow grapes. The area has sandy soil with a rich underground water source that has been tapped for drip irrigation. In addition to grapes, many crops are grown in the area including cotton, asparagus, table grapes and olives.  Though there are traditional wines made in Peru, a large amount of the industry is Pisco production.  Pisco is a distilled spirit, or brandy, made from grapes.  Back in the 1500s the Spaniards brought grapes to the area from Europe, but in the 17th Century the King of Spain banned wine entirely, which forced the locals to come up with another way of making alcohol from the grapes.

The national cocktail of Peru is the Pisco Sour, a scrumptious little concoction containing Pisco, lime juice, egg whites, simple syrup, and regional bitters.  It is served up in local bars and restaurants and even in the local Bodegas (wineries).  I was fortunate enough to taste a few different versions of the national cocktail, and even had a “Pisco Collins” – like a Tom Collins but made with Pisco instead of Gin.

I stayed in Huacachina, the little Oasis in the desert (literally a small green lake surrounded by enormous sand dunes), located about 5km south of the town of Ica, and from there it was easy to hire a local driver to take me and a friend I met at the hotel on a “wine tour”.  Our first stop was at El Catador, a small roadside operation clearly marketed to tourists. The tour guide spoke broken English and spent a good portion of the time trying to charm us foreign ladies.  We were, however, able to see the traditional wine presses –lagares– where the grapes are stomped by foot, and the unique clay pots in which they store wine and pisco. The “wines” were all sweet and unremarkable, however I did pick up a small souvenir bottle of “Perfecto Amor”, a unique dessert wine, a mixture of pisco and sweet white wine (side note – I opened this bottle with a group of wine lovers and there were mixed reviews).

Next we were off to a “real” winery, founded in 1857, Bodegas Vista Alegre.  Pulling up to the 18 foot wooden gate at one notices the contrast between the affluent wine industry and the local agricultural industry.  There is security at the gate, and when you enter through the elegant archway, you enter a completely different environment.  Completely enclosed and separated from the town, one can see the surrounding sand dunes above the walls.  There are green grape vines planted along both sides of the long driveway leading up to the tasting room, and behind the tasting room sits the onsite modern wine making facility.

I took a tour, offered only in Spanish, and though my Spanish is limited, I have done enough winery tours to be able to piece together what was being said.   The wine tasting was held at the end of the tour in the beautifully decorated tasting room/sales office.  I enjoyed the wines and the vistas while a little old man spoke too fast in Spanish for me to understand.  I don’t have notes on the wines as I was in vacation mode on this tour, but Bodega Vista Alegre left a great taste in my mouth, and was a great way to wrap up my time in Peru.

I headed back to Huacachina, did a little dune buggying and sandboarding, went out for a few Pisco Sours and called it a wrap.  I had to head back to Lima the next day to get my flight home and managed to pick up a $40 bottle of 2005 Tacama Cabernet Sauvignon at the duty free shop at the airport. This wine proved to be a beauty.  Dark fruit, currant, cedar & tobacco notes with firm tannins and a lengthy finish.  Too bad you can’t find that one in Canada!

Note of Winecouver. Two Peruvian wineries have products available in Canada (not in BC). Tacama and Tabernero. Tabernero’s Malbec Merlot blend is arguably Peru’s best today. With Argentinian investment and technology, we should expect better wines coming from the Inca nation. Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Tannat are the most promising black grapes. Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Viognier are the white varieties to keep an eye on.

ps. Text and Photos by Lisa Stefan