The taxi took me away from the brightness of the desert, and jostled me through the uneven streets of Ica, past the middle of nowhere until the world around began to bloom again on either side in unexpected strips of green. Lush cornfields hugged the dirt road, and the purple-grey mountains of the Highlands rose just behind. Excepting the palm trees, it might have been the wilderness of the American West, but I was headed to Tacama—the oldest vineyard in South America—where all the pleasures of Peru promised to converge.
We pulled up to an iron gate, which opened to a broad drive lined with ancient trees—vibrant streamers and thick braids of paper chains trailed from their boughs. The vineyard was a cacophony of colors after the monotone of the desert, in perfect harmony with the hues of the flowers. The buildings showcased what had always enchanted me about Peruvian architecture with its openness to the sky and landscape and its evident intention to align itself with the path of the sun.
There was time before the wine tour would begin, so I sat at the bar and ordered a glass of sparkling Rosa Salvaje. It was beautiful wine, a refreshing, not-too-sweet mix of Petit Verdol and Sauvignon Blanc. As I sipped, the bartenders squeezed limes and shook Pisco Sours with impressive heads of foam for my neighbors a barstool down, who, like me, were settling into the relaxed vibes of people lucky enough to be holding stemware mid-day.
I'd just set my empty glass down when the tour began, taking fifty of us past coral halls to an enormous vat room, where the guide described the technology improvements with pride, proclaiming that the vineyard once had a reputation for "great" Pisco, but now made Pisco that was perfection.
The vineyard itself had not started as a vineyard but as a monastery. It began growing grapes in order to have communion wine without having to trade with the Spanish colonizers. The further we wound into the heart of Tacama, the more pieces and architecture nodded to these religious beginnings—light streamed into the galley through the stunning rose windows and through the rounded archways was the monastery courtyard, and just across was the St. Maria chapel with doors flung opened.
The first celebrated miracle of Christ was to make the most extraordinary wine that had ever been—an act that prolonged and extended a celebration of life and love. Peruvian cultural beautifully melded religion and pleasure, sacred and sensual, much in the same way, with beauty at the forefront of everything as its own expression of divinity. Here, wine-making was a calling of the highest order, and it was only natural that the followers of Jesus would follow in his footsteps in striving to be the best winemakers on the continent.
Light flooded in from the skylights far above our heads as we were ushered around three tables in the enormous tasting room, and our guide began pouring the wines. First was The Blanco de Blanco. It was cool and thick, with just enough sweetness to round out the tone. Next was a very sweet red, and then a dry red that had after-tones of smoked meats, and then a shot of the famed Pisco, which lived up to the guide's boastings of perfection.
It was my first time drinking Pisco without a mixer. I was instructed to breathe in as I sipped, then hold it at the back of my tongue, and breathe out slowly over my tastebuds after I swallowed. It was smooth and pleasing, similar to a top-shelf sipping whiskey, yet without the burn at the back of the throat, and perfect clarity. My limbs instantly felt warmed and heavy.
The happy group meandered back to the patio, where the tour concluded, and we dispersed. A green lawn sprawled and stretched before the restaurant, scattered with chaise lounges and shaded tables made from kegs tipped on their ends. On the other side were neat rows of thick vines already heavy with grapes, extending out in vanishing point before the mountains.
I settled at a table and ordered Sopa Seca, a dish famous to this area of the country. They brought out rolls cooked in garlic, herbs, and butter with my main course—tender chicken cooked in a rich, sweet-savory sauce with legumes, spiced with coriander, basil, and cumin, served aside a bed of angel hair pasta. It, too, was perfection.
While I ate, a Peruvian woman with coquettish eyes danced barefoot across the grass. It was the traditional dance of the Marinera, which I'd seen performed before, but this time, the woman's partner was a horse and the man astride the horse. The creature bowed gallantly and snorted, circling her with mincing steps, tossing his mane while she twirled her white skirts deftly and danced laughingly away. The man atop the horse lifted his hat to her beauty in hopeful salute, yet she only smiled and spun, enjoying her siren-like powers of attraction as she held us all spellbound with her movements.
And this, my friends, was Peru. Everything I loved about the country, and would take with me when I was gone was right here—her tastes and colors, the music and celebration of life in all its pleasure. And so I lingered and drank deeply of the moment, happy to share in the good company of those who knew how to savor life and where to find the best Pisco in South America.
May your days be filled with pleasure.
May your wine be ever blessed.