Peru is not known for its wine.
Unless you’re a fan of sweet dessert wines I wouldn’t recommend ordering wine in a Peruvian restaurant (save for those that originate from neighbouring Argentina or Chile) or purchasing wine from the local supermarket.
However it is known for its Pisco. Also made from grapes, Pisco is a brandy that can either be sipped neat or made into a deliciously refreshing Pisco Sour by adding lime juice, sugar syrup and egg white.
Our tour of Ica’s wineries would incorporate lessons on and demonstrations of the production process of both. It goes without saying that we would also be given the opportunity to taste-test the final product.
Although we’d read in our guidebook that Ica was home to “the south coast’s best museum outside Arequipa…plus – arguably – the finest winery in Peru”, we weren’t all that bothered about missing these attractions. The reason? We were far more interested in continuing a further four kilometres to the desert oasis of Huacachina, where we planned to take part in the two-hour dune buggy and sandboarding experience that the village had become famous for.
However, when we checked into our hostel we discovered that we got a free tour included for every night we stayed, and we’d booked two nights at Banana’s Adventures.
Had we known at the time just how addictive riding the dunes would be and that two hours alone simply would not be enough, we would have booked two consecutive days of adrenaline-filled sand-based adventures. However as we didn’t we needed to choose another tour for our second day in Huacachina, so this is how we ended up on a tour of Ica’s wineries.
We spent the morning of our second day in Huacachina ambling around the oasis, stopping to enjoy some fruit shakes at Desert Nights and have a look around (possibly) the World’s Quaintest Library, before being collected from our hostel and being driven, by minibus, out into the countryside surrounding Ica.
Ica’s countryside is scattered with family-owned artisanal bodegas as well as the more ‘professional’ establishments like we visited.
Our first stop was El Catador, where we were given a tour of the wine and pisco making process before being ushered into the shop and tasting room and asked to take a seat.
We were each given a tiny plastic cup into which was poured a small serving of the selected wine or pisco. There are seven or eight different varieties of grape which are used to produce sweet, semi-sweet and semi-dry wines. Although not unpleasant, even the semi-dry one would be described as sweet by most other wine-producing countries.
Having sampled a large shot of three different wines and five different piscos I was already feeling a little inebriated by the time we left El Catedor, so the fact that we visited a further two or three (yes, that’s right – I actually can’t remember the exact number) wineries afterwards and were pretty much force-fed several different varieties of wine and pisco, only made matters worse.
The final place we wound up at was basically a dusty warehouse filled with a random mix of bric-a-brac and antiques, along with hundreds of large amphoras that were used to store the wine and pisco.
As well having the drinks poured for us, we also got to try out a rather interesting sampling tool, which was basically a length of bamboo with a whole cut into one side about two thirds of the way down, in order to create a spout. The bamboo was then dipped into the amphora, so that the bottom third of it filled up with wine, and then held horizontally so that the wine could be poured into the glass that was positioned underneath.
I couldn’t help feeling that it had been built more for novelty value than practicality, but it was still a lot of fun trying to use it whilst half-cut without spilling any (spoiler alert: I may not have managed this very successfully).
Our tour really lost all semblance of class at the point when we resorted (with our guide’s permission, I hasten to add) to drinking wine straight from the amphoras, via the plastic tubes used to decant it.
It was all downhill after this. The sweet wine was starting to taste really, really good, so we all decided to buy a couple of bottles to share between us at the winery, before heading back to Huacachina.
Obviously then we needed to buy another few bottles to drink back at the hostel, and then one for our guide for being so patient with us.
I don’t remember much of the night back at Banana’s Adventures, but I do remember that it was one of the most entertaining evenings I’ve ever had with a bunch of people I’d only just met. 😉