1.2.14

LIKE A FLOCK OF BIRDS




Today, we are sitting near the Manu river on a beautiful sunny day, watching a large flock of birds on the riverbank. There are little birds of all colours, the size of your hands. There are medium-sized birds, the size of parrots and ducks. There are large birds, elegant flamingos whose bright red and white colours are said to have inspired the Peruvian flag itself.

Suddenly, due to an unknown movement in the water, the birds are frightened and take off. Let us sit very still and observe the action unfolding in front of you.

The thing you'll notice right away is that the birds do not all take off at the same time.  The smaller birds take off first. They're so quick you hardly see them, you just perceive them as flashes of colour. The noise they make is very high-pitched, and you hardly hear the flapping of their wings.

When most of the small birds are airborne, it's time for the medium-sized birds to take off. The sounds they make are louder, and lower-pitched. They all screech, cackle and quack at the same time.

Finally, there is room for the larger birds to take off. Flamingos are less vocal, but the flapping of their large wings is much louder, creating a rythmic fricative sound like a large choir repeatedly singing the words "diff" and "daff".

Complex fragrances behave in the same way as a flock of birds taking off. When you spray perfume onto your body, the first few minutes are all about small and light particles. These are small molecules that evaporate very quickly. Their scent is just like the colours of the smaller birds in our flock: the moment you perceive them, your senses have already let go of them, so they just appear like flashes of fragrance. You might briefly recognise the scent of citrus, neroli or petitgrain. In the language of perfumery, these are called "top notes".

Later, as your own body heats up the perfume, the medium-sized molecules start evaporating. At this point, you will perceive the deeper scents of lavender, jasmine or bulgarian rose. Just like our medium-sized birds, they are "louder", more intense. These are called "middle notes".

   Finally, after waiting half an hour or longer, the heavier molecules are ready for take off, and the perfume takes on a much richer and lasting character. At this point, you might recognise the scent of ambergris, or tonka beans, or musk. These scents are "base notes". They are sometimes called "notes gourmandes" - which means "hungry notes" - because they smell like you might want to eat them: fuller and rounder.

With so many essences to work with, the creative potential of perfumery is, of course, awe inspiring. Some perfumes have managed to represent everything we idealise in a particular kind of woman, and have become iconic brands as a result. Others are so unique, wealthy people will spend thousands of dollars to have them made.

Nevertheless, this level of creativity is, to a certain extent, what you'd expect from modern chemistry. After all, we live in an age when new molecules are created in laboratories, atom by atom, to perfectly recreate the scent of particularly rare ingredients like sandalwood. We even go beyond this, creating scents never found in nature in the first place. After a century of chemical inventiveness, it is rare to be truly surprised by a perfume nowadays.

What is really surprising, in our view, is that winemakers have developed a similar palette of scents and flavours, using just one single ingredient: grapes. Every flavour from gooseberries to chocolate, from lemons to tobacco, is evoked in the fine balancing of different grape varietals.

Pisco, being a grape brandy, is just the same: we get to create fuller and rounder "notes gourmandes" by adding a small percentage of Albilla varietal (with a hint of vanilla) into a blend of sweet apple-like Torontel. We get to break up that heaviness, much in the way a squeeze of lemon would break up the heavy sweetness of a Tarte Tatin, by adding a small percentage of sharp Quebranta.

This is the reason why we believe the potential for creativity in pisco is yet to be fully explored. Of all the brandies, the process of making a multivarietal pisco is the one closest to the perfume making process.