I did a comparative tasting of three different piscos back in November. Given that I have since acquired a couple more piscos, it seems a good idea to do a repeat tasting. I was originally intending to write this new pisco review back in December. I delayed until now because I had been hoping to be able to include a third pisco. Sadly this was not to be.
Wade Whittle of Inca Gold Pisco has tragically, though I gather not without considerable soul searching, reneged on his November offer to send me a bottle of his product for review. It took a couple of e-mails for him to finally figure out he would not be sending the bottle he had promised to ‘set aside for me’, meaning I could stop waiting for him and write this post. He would still like to use my cocktail recipes to promote his product though. Thanks Wade!
My previous review turned into something of a battle between Chile and Peru, with the Peruvian Machu Pisco winning the day. This time we will see a similar battle as I again pit a Peruvian against a Chilean. The Peruvian product is Pisco Demonio de los Andes, while the Chilean is Bauza Reservado. Just for fun I will also review an Italian grappa from Carpene Malvoti. While grappa differs from pisco in that it is distilled from material discarded during wine making (i.e. the sludge of grape stalks, skins, and so on rather than the juice itself), it is still a type of unaged grape brandy. There should be interesting similarities and differences between the grappa and pisco.
Lets examine the Chilean offering first. I reviewed the standard Bauza last time round and found it a little astringent and flat, with an odd suggestion of sulphur. It did not grab me. In fact it was probably bordering on unpleasant. The Bauza Reservado was an improvement. The reservado had a similar raisiny flavor to the standard Bauza but was substantially richer, smoother and sweeter. Neither was especially interesting, but the reservado was more enjoyable. The reservado also differed from the standard Bauza in strength, with the standard Bauza being 35% by volume and the reservado being 40%. The Capel I previously reviewed alongside the Bauza was also 35%, so this may be the standard strength for Chilean piscos. The Bauza Reservado gets points for being smooth and easy to drink, but loses points for not having the interesting aromatic quality I like to see in pisco. It is OK but not ‘pisco-y’ enough for me.
With another average performance from Chile, Peru looked set to take the day again. The Demonio de los Andes did not disappoint. Like the Machu Pisco it was an intensely flavored clear spirit that offered aromatic grape flavors rather than raisin water. It differed from the Machu Pisco in being less sour and astringent. Instead it was fairly austere and dry. I would definitely use this pisco in drinks.
Comparing the Demonio and Machu Pisco side by side was interesting. It was difficult to say which came out better. The first time I compared I leaned towards the Machu Pisco – for its full flavor. The second time I learned towards the Demonio – for its drier character. The sourness in the Machu Pisco can be slightly unpleasant when tasting straight, but when mixed in cocktails it stops being an issue and even becomes a positive. Both had good strong flavors, with the Machu Pisco seeming a little fresher and bolder, and the Demonio seeming a little better balanced. Both seem like fine choices to me, and superior to any of the Chilean products.
The grappa was different to any of the piscos, though close enough to make an acceptable substitute. It was smooth and sweet, but also highly aromatic, making it easy to drink like the Bauza Reservado but simultaneously complex like the Demonio. The inclusion of pits, stalks, skin, and other material besides grape juice in the grappa gave it a rich depth of flavor that none of the piscos matched. However, both products shared similar basic flavors.
I have not looked at enough piscos to reach any real conclusions. However, the small sample I have reviewed suggests some differences between the Chilean and Peruvian products.
Chilean piscos appear lower in alcohol, with 35% by volume being the standard and higher alcohol versions being labeled premium. The standard for Peruvian piscos seems to be 40% by volume. Piscos from Chile and Peru also differ in color, with Chilean piscos typically having a straw color, presumably from either slight aging or artificial coloring, while Peruvian piscos are typically clear, and presumably unaged. The flavor profile also differs. The Chilean piscos I sampled all shared a sweet and gentle ‘raisin water’ type of flavor profile, while the Peruvians were more pungent, aromatic and perhaps even rough. While all tasted grapey, the Peruvian products had the most interest and complexity, with the Chilean products tending towards simple fruitiness.
Notably, the grappa resembled the Peruvian products in terms of aromatic complexity, but also had the sweet and gentle profile of the Chilean products. Overall the grappa simply had more flavor than either the Peruvian or Chilean products. This was a fairly mild grappa too. I have previously tried other grappas that were more intensely flavored than this stuff.
Obviously, one should not conclude too much based on trying a tiny handful of brands, but piscos from Peru and Chile do appear different. So far I find the Peruvian spirit more interesting than the Chilean, with a flavor more likely to carry in cocktails. Finally, while grappa is not pisco, I think it could be substituted in a pinch. When making cocktails a good grappa is probably preferable to a mediocre pisco.