How to Go Peruvian Wine Tasting – Pisco Distilleries in Ica


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Ica, Peru is the centre of the Peruvian Pisco industry.  It’s also where you’ll find the best opportunity to taste Peruvian wine, which has been made here since the Spanish colonized the country.    There are a variety of Peruvian vineyards and wineries here – all of whom also distil Peru’s most famous export of Pisco.  Welcome to everything you need to know about Peruvian wine tasting in Ica.   You’ll get to learn about Peru wine and how to take a pisco vineyard tour. And, as the Bodegas in Ica do too, we’ll throw in a few details on what is Pisco and where to find the best Pisco too.

Whether you visit the Ica wineries from Huacachina or Ica, there are great opportunities here to check out the emerging Peruvian winemaking industry and also to taste the different Pisco liquors on offer.

Most people visit the area around Ica, Peru to stay at the desert oasis of Huacachina.  And they visit Huacachina, to go sandboarding, dune buggying and to scout out a photo of the famous Peruvian oasis.  Ica, though, the city closest to Huacachina is famous for being the largest producer of Peruvian wine and wine in the country.  It’s also recognized as being the best Peruvian wine region.

More well-known for delivering Pisco to the world than its neighbour, Chile, Peru’s most famous export, Pisco, is made here in huge quantities, but it’s the emerging wine production that we were drawn to.

Most of the bodegas that you are able to visit here close to Ica and Huacachina produce both wine and Pisco.  Many allow Pisco tours and tastings as well as discounted retail sales.  There are large industrial bodegas, like Tacama (which could give Napa wineries a run for their money), the smaller, boutique, but rather nice Bodegas Vista Alegre and the family-run operations like Bodegas Lazo.  Whichever Pisco distillery Peru or Peruvian winery you choose to visit, there are a variety of ways to get there, and some great opportunities to taste the produce from this unique area.

 

 

The History of Peruvian Wine

Wine from Peru dates back to when the Spanish colonised this South American country in the 16th century. It was Francisco de Carabantes and Bartolme de Terrazas who planted the first grapes which arrived shortly after the first conquistadors.  The first vineyards in South America were planted near Cusco, Peru, but the most prominent ones of the 16th and 17th century were those that were established near Ica Peru.

An increase in Spanish in Peru and neighbouring Bolivia (as the gold, silver and mineral mining industry grew) led to an increase in demand for wine – an element of the workers’ salaries was paid in wine!

There was something of a disruption in 1687 when the entire southern coastal area of Peru was struck by an earthquake and many cities, including Ica, were destroyed along with wine cellars and the ceramic containers used for wine storage.  It was after this that there was a growth in the production of the grape brandy that Peru is perhaps most famous for, Pisco.

 

The Location of Peruvian Vineyards

There are five different Peruvian wine regions.

  • The Peruvian North Coat Wine Region
  • The Peruvian Central Coast Wine Region
  • The Peruvian South Coast Wine Region
  • The Andean Sierra Wine Region of Peru
  • The Selva Wine Region of Peru

The majority of Peru’s vineyards are located in the central coastal area – near Ica and Pisco.   The best known of pisco vineyards Peru are based here – Tacama and Vista Alegres.  Peruvian wineries are known as bodegas, so you’ll hear and see the names

  • Bodega Tacama
  • Bodega Alegres Vista
  • Bodega Lazo

This Peruvian Central Coastal Wine region is known as the best as it gets cool air from the offshore ocean breeze but is high altitude.  They are in many areas in a desert and are very dry.  It’s very similar in conditions to that of Chile’s northern wine region.

Grapes grown in Peruvian Vineyards

The main grapes that are grown in Peruvian vineyards are

  • Albillo
  • Alicante Bouschet
  • Barbera
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Grenache
  • Malbec
  • Moscatel
  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Torontel

 

The Origins of Pisco

It’s impossible to talk about Peruvian wine without talking about Peruvian Pisco – it would be rare indeed for a bodega to produce wine without producing what’s known as Peru’s national drink – Pisco.  The main question that is asked when talking about Pisco is whether Pisco comes from Peru or does Pisco come from Chile?

What is Pisco?

Pisco is a type of brandy, a spirit that is distilled from fermented fruit juice or wine.   It is nothing like the brandies that you might recognise, say Cognac.  Most spirits are aged in wooden, oak, barrels, which tends to smooth the liquor.  One of the key tenets of Pisco production is that it CANNOT be aged in wooden barrels.

 
 

What grapes is Peruvian Pisco made from?

While more than 80% of Peruvian Pisco is made from, or at least containing the Quebranta grape varietal, Pisco can ONLY be made from eight different types of grapes

  • Albilla
  • Italia
  • Mollar
  • Moscatel
  • Negra Criolla
  • Quebranta
  • Torontel
  • Uvina

Where is Peruvian Pisco made?

Peruvian Pisco can be made in one of the five coastal regions of Peru

  • Ica
  • Lima
  • Arequipa
  • Moquega
  • Tacna

Rules of Making Peruvian Pisco

Pisco can only be made from one of the five coastal regions of Peru

  1. Pisco can only be made from the following grape varieties Albilla; Italia; Mollar; Moscatel; Negra; Criolla; Quebranta; Torontel; Uvina
  2. Peruvian Pisco can only be distilled, by law in a copper pot still.
  3. Peruvian Pisco must be single distilled
  4. Peruvian Pisco must be distilled to proof between 38 – 48 per cent ABV – you can’t add water to dilute it after distillation – like is done with other spirits such as whisky or gin.
  5. Peruvian Pisco must be distilled from WINE – not the leftover pomace from the production of wine. This the same rule that applies to Armagnac, Cognac and Jerez Brandy.
  6. Pisco cannot be aged in wood, but it should rest of at least 3 months in stainless steel, glass, or a traditional clay contained called a botijas – or in slang, a Pisco.

 

Peruvian Pisco versus Chilean Pisco

Both Peru and Chile claim to be the origin of Pisco.    Both Chile and Peru produce a liquor called Pisco, both of which are distilled from grapes.  Which came first and which claim is correct is a hotly debated topic, that I’m not going to get into today, but there are some differences between Peruvian Pisco and Chilean Pisco.

The main difference is that Chilean Pisco does not need to be distilled to proof, it can also be distilled multiple times.  Chilean Pisco CAN be aged in wood.  Chilean Pisco can be made from 14 different grape varietals, as opposed to Peru’s 8.   Chilean Pisco is also graded by proof – there is 30%, 35%, 40% and 43%.

In Chile Peruvian Pisco cannot be labelled as Pisco and in Peru Chilean Pisco cannot be labelled as Pisco.

There you go – a primer on Pisco and the primary differences between Chilean Pisco and Peruvian Pisco, now let’s get back to Peruvian wine!

Important things to know about Peruvian Wine

The most important fact about Peruvian wine is that it’s mostly sweet.    The sweetness of Peruvian wine is in large part due to the climate.  The region here rarely has rain or clouds as a result of the cold water coming up from Antarctica and the Andes mountains to the east of the region.

You’ll also struggle to find Peruvian wine outside of Peru.  There are a few importers in the United States, but Peruvian wine is rarely exported to Europe or elsewhere.

Which wineries should you visit in Peru?

I wrote earlier that there are five different wine regions of Peru.  One of the benefits of visiting bodegas in Ica is their proximity to each other.  Huacachina is a great place for many travellers to stay and it’s extremely close to the Ica Valley.  Two of Peru’s top wineries, Tacama and Bodega Vista Alegre are also based here – it makes sense to combine being able to visit them with seeing some of the other attractions of the Ica area.

Where to Stay in Ica and Huacachina

We loved our stay at the Hospedaje el Telar in downtown Ica – its a great location, and has a glorious quiet courtyard where you can relax.  Breakfast is amazing, the staff are fabulous and its a great retreat from the bustle of Peru – check out prices and availability here

If you’re looking to stay in Huacachina, then Hotel las Dunas is a glorious retreat with a great pool and chill out area – check prices and availability here

Which Bodegas should you visit in Ica, Peru?

We recommend selecting from the top 5 Ica bodegas.  We took two days to visit wineries in the Ica area, most winery tours will visit one of two Peruvian bodegas, so in order to visit more, you’ll need to stay longer or engage a private driver.

Wine tasting at Bodega Tacama Ica, Peru

Tacama is the oldest vineyard in South America, having started in 1540.  Wine tours are available here in both Spanish and English.  We joined the Spanish tour, which, after the introductory video, which had English subtitles, was relatively easy to follow.   The video explains the history of Tacama and the winemaking process in general.  The first grapes to be used here came from the Spanish Canary Islands.  This vineyard, originally 200 hectares was first of all a monastery and then it turned into a commercial vineyard.  Today they grow 20 varieties of grape, having started with 4.

Tacama winery Ica

Harvest here is from December until March.  While Tacama produces 100,000 litres of Pisco each year at 43% proof, it produces one million litres of Peruvian wine.

A tour at Tacama costs 10 soles or 15 soles on long weekends and holidays.

The Tacama vineyard is gorgeous.  The restaurant and garden are beautifully presented, and you’d be hard pushed to not think you were in Napa Valley, California.  Tacama is the best place to start your wine tour Ica as the introductory video covers the basics of wine production in an easy to follow manner.

Garden at Tacama Vineyard

Peruvian Wine Tasting at Bodega Vista Alegre

The next best Ica winery to visit is Bodegas Vista Alegre.  The guide there, speaks Spanish and English and we took a private tour.    Vista Alegre was established in 1857 and has 180 hectares of grapes.  This is perhaps the best-known winery in Ica.  It was originally a Jesuit monastery until 1857 when it was converted to a winery by the Picasso brother.    It looks a little forbidding, entering through the closed gates, but the old hacienda in the centre is delightful.  The owner still lives on site.

Bodegas Alegre Vistas Ica (2)

The tasting here at Alegre Vistas – as at Tacama included wines and then several piscos.  A wine tour and tasting at Bodegas Vista Alegre costs 5 soles.

Bodegas Alegre Vistas Ica

We were lucky enough to be on-site while the Pisco was being made and got to see it going through the tanks.

Pisco Distilling Bodegas Alegre Vistas

Having a private tour also gave us an opportunity to speak with Jesus – the incredibly knowledgeable guide here.  That, in turn, led us to a small bar out of the way in Ica that night, where, as promised, Jesus made us the best Pisco sours we had in Peru!

Best Pisco Sour in Peru

If you’re interested in tasting the wine rather than just drinking it, it’s wise to split your tasting up – several tastes of wine and then 43% proof Pisco means you definitely go back to your hotel feeling happy, but after a few piscos, you don’t really taste much anymore!

Taste Peruvian Wine at El Catador

EL Catador is a small bodega near Ica.   Compared to both Tacama and Alegre Vista this is very touristy, but it’s worth a quick visit.  Wine tours here are free, you’ll get a guide who speaks your language and they’ll take you through the process, show you where the grapes are pressed, and the hundreds of clay pitchers – piscos – are stored.

PIscos for wine El Catador

Then onto the tasting, where, to be honest, we learned more about Peruvian drinking games than wine tasting.  The wine was warm, sweet and not particularly pleasant but that didn’t seem to matter, as it appears that with our guide at El Catador, the best way to drink them is to throw it back like a shot.    Still, you’ll get to learn a few Peruvian drinking games.

El Catador wine and pisco tasting

Bodega Lazo

WE didn’t get an official guide at Bodega Lazo, but our taxi driver for the day took us around.  This is a family-run vineyard and unique in more than a few ways.  The Pisco here is still stored in an authentic way, in the botijas or piscos, the clay vases.    Most of this tour consisted of wandering around a dusty, dark pseudo-museum-like area with random artefacts from the bodega’s history.

Bodegas Lazo Ica Museum

Bodgeas Lazo Museum

The wine and Pisco tasting here at Bodegas Lazo was similar to that of El Catador – warm, sweet and sticky and the first to be delivered in plastic disposable glasses.  A very different experience to that of Tacama and Alegre Vistas.

Bodega Lazo wine and pisco tasting ica

Hacienda La Caravedo

If you have room for more Peruvian wine and Pisco then it’s worth a trip to La Caravedo, which has been in operation since 1684.  This upmarket Pisco distillery is now home to the internationally well-known Pisco Porton.

How to take a Peruvian wine tour from Ica

There are three ways in which you can take a wine tour of bodegas from Ica.  The first is the easiest.

  1. Book a Peruvian wine tour online from Ica – check details and book now
    1. All the tours you can take in the Ica Area – Peruvian wine tasting tours, pisco tasting tours, sand buggy tours in Huacachina and more! > check them out now
    2. Get collected in either Ica or Huacachina and take this private wine and Pisco tasting tour for 3.5 hours.  You’ll get a bilingual guide and visit 3 different wineries and distilleries to both learn about Peruvian Wine and Pisco but also taste it! > book now!
    3. From Lima take a small group tour to the Ballesteras Islands, Ica and Huacachina – combine wildlife,  Pisco, Peruvian wine and the oasis of Huacachina.  This is a GREAT tour if you’re short of time and want to pack everything in! Book NOW!
  2. Book a tour when you arrive in Ica or Huacachina – you can do this with your hotel or hostel, or if they’re unable to provide a tour, you can book through the Huacachina.com site.
  3. Hire a taxi and driver and ask him to take you to particular wineries. You can either ask him to wait or just get you to the first winery and the find another driver to take you onto the next bodega.

How to take a Pisco tasting tour from Huacachina

The easiest way to book a Pisco and wine tasting tour from Huacachina is to book via your hostel.  Most organized tours from Huacachina visit 2 wineries – usually either Tacama or Vista Alegres and El Contador.

 

Our Learnings about Peruvian Wine Tasting

We’ve tasted wine in many of the main wine-producing regions of the world.  We’ve also tasted wine in some of the stranger wine regions of the world, like India (surprisingly good), Myanmar (ye gods, no, just no) and Turkey (hmm, it was excellent).  We’d known that we were going to taste and explore Pisco here in Peru, but this wine-producing region of Peru was a pleasant surprise.   While most of the wines produced here at sweet, there is the occasional dry red available.  If you’re visiting Huacachina or Ica it is well worth taking a look at what Peruvian has to offer it may just surprise you, as it did us!

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About Sarah Carter

Sarah Carter is an avid reader, writer and traveller. She loves hiking, sailing, skiing and exploring the world through food. She left a successful career in IT security and compliance in both the UK and US to travel the world with husband and partner in adventure, Nigel.

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