Diego Vásquez is head sommelier at Lima’s slick Central restaurant. Located in the hip Barranco District, it’s known for its experimental approach to cocktails and its ecosystem-inspired dishes, such as the Sea Terrain—a medley of squid served with a type of seaweed known as sargassum. Vásquez spends much of his time exploring remote parts of Peru in search of the next big Peruvian tipple, whether it’s Peruvian mead, cactus milk or, most recently, a spirit made with blueberries and produced in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca region.
He regularly comes across producers whose grape distillations rival some of Peru’s top pisco brands, but who aren’t legally allowed to use the term ‘pisco’. But Vásquez is a firm believer that we should be celebrating the different aromas and flavors found in piscos (or, at least, “grape distillations”) produced in Peru’s different landscapes.
“Right now we’re trying to open up the production of pisco, in terms of where pisco must come from,” he says. “If you’re producing grape distillations outside those five regions, you can’t call it pisco, but every region of Peru is so different.”
He tells me that there are some brilliant producers in the north who are distilling older varieties of grapes, creating a pisco with a rich heritage. “And there are these fantastic producers who use the same machinery their grandfathers used,” he tells me. “Some rely on gas, while others rely on wood-burning fires—there’s a belief that the type of fire, whether the flame is blue or orange, affects the final product. And they’ll know the precise moment at which to stop the distillation, just by taste alone.”