Chileans and Peruvians argue over whether the strong brandy known as pisco, usually distilled from Muscatel grapes, is of Chilean or Peruvian origins. In my opinion, it's a sterile argument: both produce very fine but slightly different versions of the beverage, and their signature pisco sour cocktails are also slightly different (Chile's best are tart, thanks to limes from the Atacama desert oasis of Pica; the Peruvian version has a stronger dash of Angostura bitters). Commonly served in a champagne glass, the frothy pisco sour is addictively tasty, and visitors to Chile and Peru often carry home bottles of pisco in lieu of wine (the bottle to the right is Chilean pisco, from the Elqui valley about 500 km north of Santiago).
Peru, of course, has a port named Pisco and the word is probably of Quechua origins. Chile, meanwhile, has marketed its pisco more aggressively and effectively ever since 1936, when the town of La Unión renamed itself Pisco Elqui, after the irrigated desert valley in which its vines are cultivated, in the present-day administrative region of Coquimbo. In Chile, Coquimbo (capital La Serena, the coastal gateway to the Elqui valley) and Atacama (immediately north, capital Copiapó) are the only two regions allowed to claim the name pisco for their brandy.
Chile will take its marketing to the next level tomorrow, as Pisco Elqui will host the first Día Nacional del Pisco (National Pisco Day). It's as good an excuse as any to indulge yourself in one of the great pleasures of any visit to Chile - the standard welcome drink at every hotel in the country.