The story goes that when Steven Soderbergh was shooting the movie Che in Bolivia, he tasted a traditional Bolivian spirit and fell in love with it. So much so that he decided to import it into the U.S. and market it on our shores.
What’s Singani 63? Distilled from Muscat of Alexandria grapes, it is classified as a brandy by the U.S. but it more closely resembles Pisco, which is common right next door in Peru and Chile. (Also of note, it is bottled at 80 proof, not 63.) What did Soderbergh see in all of this? Let’s find out.
If you’re familiar with quality Pisco, you’ve got a head start on everyone else. The nose is fragrant and aromatic, racy with heady perfume notes, lemongrass, a touch of almond, and incense character. On the palate, again it’s quite brisk with buzzy perfume character, a squeeze of citrus, and some sandalwood. The finish features just a touch of mushroom and a wisp of menthol, but otherwise winds things up nice and clean, with a surprisingly refreshing finish.
Pisco isn’t something I use with any regularity, and Singani 63 will likely meet the same fate in my home bar. That said, if Pisco’s your bag, this is a fun spin on a spirit that’s rising in popularity as an alternative to vodka and gin. Wholly affordable, too.
La Caravedo is a new pisco from Pisco Porton, a puro bottling made only from quebranta grapes.
The nose is classic pisco, offering a restrained take on the spirit that brings forth notes of quince, evergreen, and modest underpinnings of rubber and petrol (again, classic pisco stuff).
The palate offers a nice balance of flavors — strong floral notes (perhaps inspiring the graphic etched on the bottle), pear notes, more of that evergreen/pine character (later on in the experience), and a finish evoking lightly sweet butterscotch character — alongside an herbal, almost tar-like edge. There’s ample complexity here, but also a nice balance of flavors and aromas that come together to form a nicely realized package.
On the whole, it’s rather gentle as far as pisco goes, a spirit category that is rarely known for its restraint and nuance. I wouldn’t hesitate to try to work it into a pisco sour, a cuzco, or any other classic pisco cocktail.
Did you know that America has a national day dedicated to the national cocktail of… Peru? We do, and it’s this Saturday (February 7)! For anyone here not Pisco savvy or Peruvian, we’ve got a whole backlog of Pisco profiles for your perusal, but here’s a recipe to get you started on your way to celebrating. Got a favorite Pisco cocktail? Share it with us!
Porton Pisco Sour
2 oz. Pisco Portón
1 oz. fresh lime juice
1 oz. simple syrup
1 oz. egg whites
Dash of Angostura bitters
Add all ingredients in a blender. Blend on high for 15 seconds, add 5 cubes of ice, and then pulse in the blender 5 times. Strain up into a glass. Garnish with 3 drops of Angostura bitters.
Pisco, essentially an unaged brandy, has been fueled by the revival of the Pisco Sour and a few other piscoriffic cocktails. But Chilean pisco is something of a rarity in a day and age where Peruvian pisco rules the market. Waqar is produced from muscat grapes grown at the foot of the Andes in Tulahuen, in northern Chile; in Peru that would make this an aromaticas-style pisco.
Muscat makes for a distinctive brandy, and Pisco Waqar is no exception. The nose is heavily perfumed and infused with aromas of rose petals, honeysuckle, lemongrass, and some hospital notes. The body is typical of pisco — a pungent, exuberant spirit with notes of lemon oil, crushed flowers, a touch of pears, and more perfume (or rather, what I imagine it would be like to drink perfume). The finish is a bit spicy — not just racy the way white brandies can be, but fiery on the tongue.
Initially a bit daunting, Waqar grew on me over time, winning me over in the end.
“A Peruvian tradition revived.” That tradition: An aperitif wine made from fermenting grape juice, fortified with Pisco. The grapes used for both the juice and the Pisco are Quebranta (50%), Italia (25%), and Torontel (25%) — the classic grapes that are used in Peruvian Pisco.
Sherry and Madeira fans will probably eat this right up. The nose (and color, too) is typical of oxidized wines, pungent, but with raisin and citrus overtones. On the body, it’s lighter than you might expect, with ample sweetness from the juice offset by notes of spiced apples, cloves, and light sherry character. It finishes slightly sweet, finishing with a slight raisin character. I expect most poeple who were served this spirit blind would expect, based on the color, body, alcohol level, and flavor components, that they were actually drinking sherry.
After you tell them what it is, they may very well wonder why they weren’t.
Pisco is a spirit on the rise, and Peru’s BarSol makes a huge range of them — seven varieties at present. Below we look at two single-grape varieties, a quebranta and an italia, which are probably the two most common pisco grapes grown. Thoughts on each follow. Both are 80 proof.
BarSol Primero Quebranta Pisco – 100% quebranta grapes, BarSol’s entry-level Pisco. Fresh nose, with notes of powdered milk, and some pine needles. Piney on the tongue, with some lemon notes in the mid-palate. Altogether this is mild on the pisco spectrum, with a short finish that is reminiscent of pear. Overall it’s a solid choice for a mixing pisco, offering classic pisco character without being overwhelming with the brash and young funkiness that’s typical of this spirit. B+ / $20
BarSol Selecto Italia Pisco – 100% italia grapes, a step up in price. Much bigger on the nose. Big citrus notes, some evergreen aromas, but more of it than the quebranta. On the palate, the body is much more viscous than the quebranta, with a honey bent to it. Racier all around, spicy, with a longer finish and a certain chewiness to it. A good choice if you’re looking for less neutrality in your spirit and more indigenous character, without a whole lot of funk. A- / $35
We’re stepping back here. In 2011 we reviewed Macchu Pisco’s “La Diablata” bottling, which is made from a blend of grapes in the “acholado” style. This is the Peruvian company’s original pisco, a single-varietal bottling made from Quebranta grapes.
It’s a solid pisco, mild but traditional with plenty of musky funk on the nose. Breathe deep for leather and tar notes, olive pits, and kerosene. On the palate, the fire is there, but restrained, held back by more notes of tree bark, licorice, forest floor, olives, and a bit of honeyed sweetness. All in all it’s got classic pisco structure, though it could really use a little more zip, a bit more life in it, and more acidity in the finish.
Overall, though, it’s a good introduction to the spirit for the uninitiated.
One of the top brands of the pisco revival, Encanto has been making waves for years — and we’re only just now getting around to reviewing it formally. An acholado style pisco, Encanto is a blend of distillate from four types of grapes — Quebranta (74%), Torontel (6%), Moscatel (4%) and Italia (16%). (Most other pisco styles are single-varietal. See our primer here.)
Encanto is a very fresh and lively Peruvian pisco, lacking in the hoary funk that defines so many of its competitors. The nose features fresh citrus along with some pine needle — tangy and inviting, almost gin-like. The body follows suit. Ample lemon notes meld nicely with secondary notes of evergreen, pencil shavings, and modest floral notes on the back end. As pisco goes, this is easygoing, pleasant, and — again — fresh. While pisco still doesn’t show up in a whole lot of cocktails today (and few are drinking this stuff straight), if you’re going to invest in one bottle of pisco, Encanto is probably the one to buy.
Note: Encanto has a single-varietal pisco in the works which I’ve tasted (once). Not sure how close it is to release… stay tuned.
Okay they’re really not disco-inspired cocktails, but it was tough to resist the whole rhyme scheme. Absolutely abysmal wordplay aside, Pisco is indeed a wonderful South American brandy that is sorely under-represented in the cocktail world. Here are a couple of recipes courtesy of our friends over at Portón that are worth checking out and warming up with during these frigid winter months.
2 parts Portón pisco
1 part pomegranate juice
1 part tangerine juice
Sugar to taste
Pomegranate seeds for garnish
Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake well and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with pomegranate seeds.
Chile celebrates its Independence Day on September 18, and this year the country took the opportunity to revive the battle its been locked in with Peru over who originated — or makes better — the South American spirit of Pisco.
Distilled from grapes, Pisco is essentially unaged (usually) brandy, though in Chile they are more apt to drop their Pisco in an oak barrel for a few months or years than they are in Pisco.
Here’s an oddball review: A bottle of pisco brought back from Chile (which disputes with Peru who originated this Latin spin on unaged brandy) called Los Artesanos del Cochiguaz.
Los Artesanos del Cochiguaz’s Pisco is available in a variety of proof levels (not to mention a variety of other spirits). This one is bottled at 70 proof. Lightly aged, it’s a very light, brassy yellow in color.
The nose is reminiscent of grappa, and not a bad one. Alcoholic and earthy, but not heavy, a benefit of the lighter proof level, I’m sure. On the tongue there is a surprising sweetness here, and I’d be surprised if this hasn’t been doctored in some way (however marginally). Wood aging helps, I’m sure, to temper some of pisco’s more notorious up-front brashness, giving this spirit a very mild character and lots of caramel notes.
Beyond that, there’s not a whole lot here. There’s some evergreen and some citrus character, but these are very mild next to the more sugary notes. Surprisingly sippable, just not a whole lot more to report beyond that.
The origin of Pisco 100’s name is unclear, but this Peruvian Pisco — an “acholado” style blended of distillate from several grape varietals — is a pungent example of the spirit. On the nose, traditional Pisco character — jet fuel, aromatic pine needles, woody coconut husk. The evergreen sticks with you into the body, which speaks again of the forest, with a mushroomy finish that makes you forget about that gasoline rush on the nose.
Earthy, fresh, and fragrant, it has a lot to like, especially those fun aromatics, though it’s a touch on the pricey side.