Wednesday, May 14, 2008

No Sour Grapes Here

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.


chuck goolsbee said...

Damn... it has been 25 years or more since I've had a Pisco Sour! I've never seen Pisco (from Peru or Chile) in a store in the USA. Do you know if any of it is exported?

Speaking of Chilean wines, I stumbled upon this blog recently as he is a web hosting customer of my employer: Vinagoth. The guy obviously loves Chilean wines.


Wayne Bernhardson said...

I don't know where you live, Chuck, but it's not that hard to find pisco in the Bay Area - though not always the best - in stores such as Beverages & More. The Peruvian restaurant Destino in San Francisco makes very fine pisco sours.

chuck goolsbee said...

I'm north of Seattle about 60 miles. The State of Washington controls liquor sales here. Outside of beer & wine, you have to buy at a State-run liquor store. The choices in beer & wine at the typical grocery are very slim here. Next time I'm in California maybe I'll stop and pick some up. Maybe Esquin in Seattle (a big wine merchant) carries it... I'l have to ask next time I'm there.

Wayne Bernhardson said...

I don't know whether you might be able to order it shipped from California, where it's readily available. You might be able to find pisco in Vancouver (BC) if you head up that way, though obviously the quantity you could bring across the border would be limited.

Matt said...

Hmmmm...pisco...Such a good drink and even piscolas taste nice. Pisco Sours are fantastic and I use to drink them all the time until I saw one being made-the huge amount of sugar made me limit my consumption!

Alto del Carmen 40% is my favourite. The only Pisco i've ever seen outside of Chile is the really basic Capel 35%. Not a good Pisco, but better than nothing if you can't find anything else, I guess.

Wayne Bernhardson said...

Personally, I find piscola repulsive, but that may be because I find colas repulsive. For that matter, I don't care for pisco alone.

Pisco sours need sugar but they don't need to be THAT sweet - after all, the operative word is sour. A good lime from Pica will do the trick, but there are other alternatives; the Glaciar Pez restaurant in Puerto Natales does a sour with the native Mapuche spice merkén, and it has some bite to it.

The best pisco may come from the tiny Los Nichos distillery upvalley from the town of Pisco Elqui.

Anonymous said...

As a Chilean living in Buenos Aires, I was over the moon when I saw a nice selection of different Piscos at my local Carrefeur in Barrio Norte.
That was until I saw the price. Around 80 pesos,the same price as a bottle of Stolichnaya.
I think I'll keep to the vodka.
Vashé zdorov'ye


Wayne Bernhardson said...

You can get a pretty good pisco sour at Libélula, a Peruvian-Japanese restaurant in Palermo (Lafinur 3268) or at Zadvarie Doc (Uriarte 1423, also in Palermo).

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