The Natural Wines of Peru
While Peru is home to the oldest vineyards in South America, it’s unique terrain paired with a series of natural disasters never allowed the wine scene to blossom like it did in Argentina or Chile. Today, while there is still a considerable amount of wine being made in Peru, much of it is low quality and often a byproduct of the pisco industry. Pepe Moquillaza, the winemaker and distiller of the renowned Inquebrantable pisco, has been quietly making several fine natural wines that embrace the terroir of Peru’s southern coast.
“It’s a small production that’s very focused on expressing the authenticity of the terrain,” says Moqulliaza on his Quebranta de Ihuanco, made with a grape typically used for making pisco. “On such a small scale, we can really fine tune with chefs and sommeliers. All of our force is to harmonize with their concepts, to give power to the expressions that they are working with.”
“The project in Ihuanco is a wine of the sea, which is five kilometers away in Cerro Azul. So, it’s a very particular expression of the grape with the effect of the fog and marine soil that dates back millions of years,” he says. “The Mimo wines are wines of the desert, not the sea. The expression is bolder with a touch less salinity than in Ihuanco.”
Moquillaza sees potential for more natural wines to be produced in Peru, though help is needed. He recommends that Prom Peru should replicate the work of Pro Chile with how they have promoted small producers in the Itata valley, which in just three years is seeing lots of exports of low volume, high value wines.
As production is still quite limited, each of Moquillaza’s vintages are mostly sold out in advance. Some of the world’s top restaurants, such as Central in Lima and El Celler de Can Roca in Spain, stock Moquillaza’s wines and piscos. When available, some specialty wine shops in Lima, such as La Gastrónoma, also carry them.
Moquillaza’s latest project is a collaboration with Argentine natural winemaker Matías Michelini of Passionate Wine in the Valle de Uco. Working out of a wine lab at La Quilloay in the Valle de Ica, the pair released their initial three wines in 2017. The first is a red wine that co-ferments quebranta with moscato rosso, spending eight months in barrels of sixth use. The other two are single varietal (Italia and torontel) orange wines that are aged for four months in 80-year old clay amphora barrels once used for holding pisco. Total production for all three is limited to 2700 bottles per vintage.
Albita de Ihuanco
Peru’s first orange wine was launched in 2014, though a cold wave and flood limited production in 2016 and 2017. Made from a combination of Italia and Albilla grapes, Albita is a rather traditionally made orange wine. Here’s what Simon Wolf said about it in The Morning Claret: “It wafts prodigously out of the glass with raisined, resinous aromas, and a herbal, earthy note that reminds me a little of some Georgian qvevri wines. There’s loads of depth and flavour, also a real feeling of heat – of baked fruit and sun. The bottle claims 12.5% ABV, but the power of this wine suggests something much higher. That said there is a hint of citrus, and a nice saltiness which keeps the wine in balance – almost suggesting sherry, but with far less oxidative character.”
Quebranta de Ihuanco
Peru’s only indigenous vinifera variety, Quebranta is cross of of mollar and negra criolla (aka país or negra Peruana) grapes, which were brought by the Spanish, sometime in the sixteenth century. Primarily used for pisco, the non-aromatic quebranta was never taken seriously for use in winemaking, though this label is showing the amount of potential it has. It’s lighter than a red but darker than a rose. It’s somewhere in between and depending on the vintage Moquillaza’s might lean more in one direction than the other. It’s a summery wine that’s served best slightly chilled. It goes well with comida criolla, the hearty coastal fare with deep, sometimes spicy flavors. In 2017, Moquillaza upped the production from 1,800 to 3,600 bottles per vintage.