Diego Vásquez Luque: ”The Peruvian wine movement is gaining a lot of ground right now”

Diego Vásquez Luque.
Sorrel Moseley-Williams
Published 27-February-2020
Interview / Lima

Peru’s capital city is a recent buzzword on the global dining scene but let it be known Lima has been leading South America’s gastronomic pack for quite some time. And, the last few years have also seen substantial growth in terms of wine consumption in Lima.

“Five years ago, limeños would likely only have ordered a familiar Sauvignon Blanc or Malbec, but as importers have opened up the market, clients now have greater choice and are honing their palates to try Riesling or different styles of Chardonnay, for example,” says Diego Vásquez Luque, Head Sommelier at restaurant Kjolle in Lima.

Limeños (Lima’s residents) love to eat, whether it’s an anticucho, beef-heart skewer, at a mom-and-pop joint, a zingy cebiche at one of the city’s food markets or sampling a tasting menu at one of the numerous fine-dining spots that regularly amass attention from world’s best lists. Let’s throw it out there: Peruvians don’t just love to eat, they live to eat.

Their drinking culture is also pretty well on point, enjoying pisco (brandy made by distilling fermented grapes) in cocktails such as chilcano, a ginger ale concoction, chilled chela (slang for beer) in the sticky summer months – and now, Peruvian wine, according to sommelier Diego Vásquez Luque.

Diego is responsible for the mother cellar at Casa Tupac, the base for chef Virgilio Martínez’s small yet mighty culinary empire that includes Central, undisputedly one of the world’s best restaurants, Mayo cocktail bar, and sister restaurant Kjolle led by chef Pía León; located upstairs from Central, Kjolle is where you’ll find the Head Sommelier undertaking service on a day-to-day basis.

Kjolle (photo: Gustavo Vivanco).

The past few years have seen substantial growth in terms of limeños’ wine consumption, which is partly due to the development of the city’s innovative food scene, he says.

“Five years ago, limeños would likely only have ordered a familiar Sauvignon Blanc or Malbec, but as importers have opened up the market, clients now have greater choice and are honing their palates to try Riesling or different styles of Chardonnay, for example. Those efforts and that growth, combined with sommeliers working hard to educate diners about wine and other beverages, go hand in hand with gastronomy’s development – and I include the growth of cocktail bars and concepts behind Peruvian drinks in those advances.”

While Peru has long made pisco, the crossover from solely distilling fermented pisco grapes as an end product to fermenting for wine has been slow in coming forward (there are eight varieties used to make pisco in Peru: Quebranta, Negra Criolla, Uvina, Mollar, Moscatel, Torontel, Italia and Albilla).

But, the homegrown vintages segment has started to gain momentum – and fast, Diego says.

“Peru has produced pisco since the 16th century, but we’re suddenly finding numerous individual projects experimenting with pisco grapes to create small batches of between 400 and 500 litres of wine a year. Born as experiments made with Quebranta or Torontel, this movement is gaining a lot of ground right now.”

A derivative of Negra Criolla from the Canary Islands, Quebranta stands out for me

While there aren’t any official numbers, numerous smaller projects have crossed over to add fermentation to their production portfolio, always retaining a Peruvian essence by ageing in stainless tanks or tinajas (clay vessels) in accordance with pisco legislation. And, given the limited quantities, there’s plenty of passion behind their work, which Diego loves to showcase at Kjolle and Central.

“Take pisco producers Ceferino and Dora Fernandini Villanueva Sánchez, who are based in Anexo Jito near Lunahuaná. Ceferino talks about Quebranta vines as if they were his kids, and distils them out of his garage. He makes a mistela, a blend, from Quebranta and Uvina, the only hybrid allowed for making pisco, and for me, Lunahuaná produces Peru’s best expression.”

”We round off Central’s South America tasting by pairing his 2001 with a cacao dessert that uses the whole fruit – mucilage, nibs and even the pod – lending significance to the entire cacao pod. In turn, we give value to Uvina and this producer. We don’t work with big names but limited projects where you can sense the hand of the person involved, the tradition and story behind it, a wine that really expresses a place.”

Of all the pisco grapes, there’s one that Diego is particularly fond of: the red Quebranta.

“A derivative of Negra Criolla from the Canary Islands, Quebranta stands out for me. Born here in Peru, it’s incomparable and has a strong identity in both pisco and wine.”

While both Kjolle and Central serve very complete juice pairings that showcase Peruvian botanicals, the mixology squad also experiments with flora and roots: Q’aqe, for example, is a house digestif made with Andean roots. The restaurants’ liquid future is based around Peru for sure, says Diego.

“The Peruvian wine movement is gaining a lot of ground right now, and so much is happening in Peru that, sooner rather than later, we’ll probably have a separate harmonisation in addition to the world and South American wine pairings,” he says.

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