By Diana Schwalb
“Tasting Pisco is about training your senses in order to identify the different components,” says Livio Pastorino Wagner, editor of the electronic magazine El Pisco es del Perú. “This is something that can be taught and I believe that every Peruvian should learn to identify a good Pisco.”
In the 1990s, Pastorino started working at the Pampa de Villacurí in Ica where he cultivated asparagus. This is where he had his first real experience with Pisco. “Every Saturday, the workers brought along unlabeled Pisco bottles for their personal consumption and they let me have some.” He remembers how surprised he was at the excellent quality of this beverage because these were people who did not have many resources, yet they made fantastic Pisco. “In the 90s, Pisco like that was unheard of in Lima.”
A fellow worker in Villacurí proposed that Livio join him in the planting of quebranta grapes for Pisco production. They cultivated 8-10 hectares of grapes, and in the year 1993, they made their first Pisco in Gaudalupe, Ica. They made it in the traditional way which is by stomping on the grapes and storing them in jars called botijas. “Pisco, unlike beer, is something you can drink while doing other tasks and continue with your day without any problem,” states Pastorino. “In fact, the workers in this vineyard, had the custom of drinking Pisco at 7 or 8 in the morning as they cultivated the field.”
This first production rendered 300 gallons of Pisco and the workers of the bodega were paid with part of the crop. “I don’t really know if it was good Pisco because back then, I didn’t know what I know now,” confesses Livio, and says that he took his production to Lima for his own consumption. With pride, he states that “every time we had friends over, I would serve my own Pisco.”
In 2001, he retired from Pisco and agricultural production, but he still attended Pisco Festivals. In 2006, his business partner presented the idea of putting together an online magazine called "El Pisco es del Perú." By December of that same year, the first online edition was launched. “The magazine had a great reception and now we have around 4000 subscribers in 60 different countries. Pisco is an underground thing in Peru; sadly, many people do not value what we, as a country, possess.”
“There seems to be a common and recurring mistake in the media: they constantly refer to Pisco as liquor. We, who love Pisco, want to teach people that it is not a liquor but a distilled alcoholic drink or ‘firewater,’ ” states Pastorino with conviction, “I even wrote it on my Facebook and Twitter recently so that people will see it,” he laughs.
“Our goal with this magazine is to spread the culture of Pisco; we want Peruvians to be able to tell when a Pisco is a truly good product. This project does not have a great profit plan, we are just very fond of Pisco and we look to share our interest with other Pisco lovers.” He tells us that the support of people who write to the magazine is what keeps them going. He has even started writing personal articles for the publication of the magazine even though he never intended to: “my webmaster made me do it,” he jokes.
Shortly after launching the monthly e-magazine, they approached Soledad Marroquín, director of the Instituto del Vino y del Pisco (IDVIP) in the Universidad San Martín, to present to her the idea of the magazine. She insisted that they take a course on the tasting and sampling of pisco, which they did. Additionally, they received endorsement from the IDVIP itself and Le Cordon Bleu. After finishing the course in 2008, they created the blog nochesdecata.blogspot.com: a practical guide to know which Pisco to purchase.
Livio and many other collaborators have recently started hosting an event called Pisco Peru: 400 Años de Historia y Tradición which is mainly a night of guided tasting for anyone who is interested. The first night was held in June of this year and the second in September, both in the restaurant Madeira. “We worked with the best Piscos,” says Pastorino. “They were tasted first by our tasting panel and then used in the guided tasting.” Their goal is to host one guided tasting every month during the next year to promote the culture of Pisco.
We asked Livio to share a few of his tips for the tasting and drinking of Pisco with our readers. Here are a few:
-Pisco Sour must be prepared with good Pisco. Bad Pisco will give you a hangover.
-When you go to a restaurant, you should demand different varieties of Pisco in the menu (there are 11) so that restaurants feel encouraged to offer a wider selection and consequently, people will be more exposed to Pisco culture.
-Pisco must be transparent and you should be able to feel the fruity taste when you drink it.
-Try making your own Pisco cocktails, the easiest (and Livio’s favorite) is the Chilcano.
To read more about Livio and his endeavors to promote pisco, check out his blog or his monthly magazine.