Rejoice all functioning alcoholics among us, today we indulge in Chiles own Pisco, the potent liquor distilled from wine that I’m fast developing an addiction to like an ex-pat to gin. With team Poland off jaunting in Bolivia for the moment we’ve sadly developed under-utilised livers, a condition that needs immediate correction. So it’s off to Valle Elqui today, home to the small town Pisco Elqui, the famed heartland of Pisco in Chile and indeed the world.
Hang on, do I hear objections from the peanut gallery?
Indeed I do, and we’re glad you asked. It seems that among long standing border tension, national distain and a few wars thrown in for giggles, Peru and Chile have long fought over the proud mantle of being the inventors of Pisco. Ignoring that we learnt this in Chile it seems that Pisco was a registered production in Chile five years before it was in Peru; conclusive I say. Peru can now add Pisco to the long list of factors in which it comes second to Chile, not that we’re biased at all.
And it doesn’t stop there, In the Atacama we were sipping on a Pisco Sour gazing at a salt flat sunset when I teasingly prodded to the guide, ‘who makes better Pisco, Chile or Peru’? Well let me tell you that Queenslanders have nothing, not a Bob Katter brain cell when it comes to vexatious distain for a neighbour. Apparently there is only one country that makes Pisco, and it’s not Peru, ouch. I knew I was poking a bear a little but the extent the bear would growl was a surprise; allow me to paint the picture. Chile is arguably Latin Americas most stable, secure and prosperous country with Peru safely nestled somewhere comfortably in the shallow end of the social pool. I can’t help myself as a New South Welshman; Queensland and Peru have more than just a few things in common. We’ve even noticed that the bus from Arica (beside the Peru border) went through enough security protocol to defuse the IRA but as we head south it’s business as usual, I reckon there’s something in that.
But back to the alcohol, Chiles favourite. We score a random bus and we’re off for the roughly two hour trip to the Elqui Valley. Entering the valley we begin to see grape vines, that familiar feeling of elegant rural romance a welcome assault. Pisco grapes are grown slightly differently here, trestled up quite high and forming a canopy unlike the rows of wine grapes; we keenly soak up every detail we can see. Past a dam the valley narrows, the mountains rise, the trees thin and the linear pitches of lush green vine plots take charge of the vistas before us like a green river winding through the valley. The landscape here is still very dry and desert like lending a stark contrast between the valley floors lush green and the imposing harsh mountains that rear up either side.
Pisco Elqui presents like a wine town for all money, every building and public space is peeled from the pages of Vogue Country Living magazine, charming rustic aesthetic captured throughout. Parking at a small local restaurant we soak up some shamefully alcohol free natural juices waiting for our Chilean comfort food. And the pickled rabbit and slow cooked goat is simple, morish and falling off the bone, a worthy substitute for a Pisco craving that would give Martina Hingis’ cocaine urgings a run for their money. Literally licking fingers clean we sign off from probably our best meal in Chile so far and the time for restraint is over, Pisco here we come.
We amble down the street to Mistral, a very flash distillery known for very premium Pisco, eager to get onto a tour and find out a little more about our newest vice. No English tour for another hour: not happy Jan. Fast forward now, we’ve scoped out hire bikes for later and Charlie has purged himself through a foul coffee so Pisco time it is finally. Through the hour long tour we get a great dose of history, production and technical information about Pisco. And yes, we have a tasting so we’re happy little campers. The tasting was straight Pisco which is a little like a gentle scotch, quite potent but not entirely full on, not bad at all really. Of course we finish with a Pisco sour, the most popular way to have Pisco and indeed the form we/ I am becoming obsessed with.
With heads full of information and bellies full of Pisco we venture off on our bikes for a jaunt up the valley. Welcome fresh air greets us along a hillside road overlooking the sweeping vistas of the agricultural valley. Again we’re struck by the contrast of lush crops that burst from a valley that seems too dry to support such intensity of colour. Elqui Valley is really a postcard at every turn. We make it to Los Nichos, a distillery known for producing Pisco the old fashioned way but we skip the tour and opt for a leisurely ride back to Pisco conscious that we have quite a journey back to La Serena.
Stopping at Vicuna, the main town in the valley we scoff down a huge meal at a restaurant on the fittingly picturesque Plaza. We’ve soaked up more than just Pisco in this day of indulgence, Elqui Valley is a place that is fulfilling just to be in, beautiful, simple and elegant. So much for La Serena being just a stop off on the way to Santiago, big tick from these happy little soaks.