Before this week, I had never really given any thought to Peruvian wine, or even South America in general. I knew, of course, that Chile and Argentina both make great wines and are major players, but that was about it. I read a little bit the other week about Brazilian wine, and how it's far bigger than I ever gave it credit for. I have this wonderful article on wine culture versus knowledge in wine-producing areas to thank for this knowledge.
My knowledge on Peruvian wine, however, was obtained the hard way - through tasting a flight of South American Chardonnays at the 2020 Concours Mondial de Bruxelles. Because I am an absolute moron, I have somehow misplaced all my notes for this one particular flight (a tragedy as it was the most intriguing flight I got to taste). I might find them at the bottom of a bag, crumpled, but until then, I'll have to rely on my week-old memory for some vague pointers.
The flight started with an Argentine Chardonnay-Torrontes blend. It had all the typical aromatic notes of a New World Gewurztraminer, with decent acidity too, and this would have been my guess in a blind tasting. Not my absolute favourite style, but not too bad. Torrontes isn't an easy grape to find in France, so the last time I had any must have been way back in 2016.
We tasted maybe three or four in the university tasting team, and I remember coming to the conclusion that it filled a niche between crisp (or off-dry) floral Gewurztraminers and oily, snooty Viogniers. Viogniers are not too far from being my least favourite grape (with a few notable exceptions - but most Condrieu is out of budget most of the time, shout out to Domaine Pichat's Collines Rhodaniennes IGP oaked Viognier which at €15-20 is an outstanding Viognier to convince even me to start loving the grape), and I've never been a huge fan of Torrontes either. It may fill this gap, but is it a gap that needs filling? At any rate, this first wine from Domaine Bousquet set things straight. I didn't love it, but it was well made, had great typicity, and the balance was pretty decent too. I think Chardonnay is a good partner for Torrontes, taking care of the body and letting the Torrontes shine on the nose. The rest of my panel wasn't so keen I don't think. Either way, it wasn't outstanding, but I'd love to try some more similar blends.
The rest of the flight was a selection of fairly generic Chardonnays from Brazil, Argentina, and Peru without Torrontes to balance them out. While I think for their buttery structure and apple notes they all stood out as Chardonnays, where they really shone was their restraint. A lot of up-and-coming wine regions (especially in the New World) do still love their overly-oaked Chardonnays that are nothing but buttered toast. It's not a style I dislike by any means, but so often it's ham-fisted and unimaginative (it's a great, easy-to-follow recipe for a drinkable wine in an international style, but so often it ends there). In this case however, for the most part there was still great restraint and freshness, with apples dominating over oak, for which I really must commend them.
I did a little bit of research on Peruvian wines, and discovered that part of its obscurity today is due to it and Mexico's successful wine industry in the 1600s. Apparently between them they were making so much, and such high quality wines that they were seriously harming Spain's old world wine exports. Local production was banned throughout the Spanish empire. Some countries (Chile, Argentina) felt more comfortable flouting these regulations, and today have a flourishing wine industry. Mexico and Peru, however, mostly felt obliged to toe the line and stop making wine. The results today speak for themselves - but a great example nonetheless of how early 17th century economic policy still affects modern wine culture.
I wish I had more to say about Peruvian wines, but I suspect that short of going there and speaking to experts, I'll probably never learn much about them. I took a look at a map of Peruvian wine regions - it turns out most of them are made fairly near Chile, on the Southern end of the country's Pacific coast. There seem to be a bunch of big 'valleys' (Chincha appears to be big and relatively famous) - maybe someone else can tell me of more to look out for?
Here's a few articles I read that I found quite enlightening about the topic, I would love to find and read more!
The Drinks Business' article on Peruvian wine
Gavin Hubble's article on the Wines of Peru
NewWorlder's natural wines of Peru