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  • Kami Kenna

Criolla Grapes

Vitis vinifera is the single species that forms the basis for nearly all of the wine the world consumes, there are between 5,000 and 10,000 varieties. Natural crossings and adaptations occur to give form to new varieties and they do so in two ways, either by crossing, by way of a natural or human intervention, and by genetic mutations. In the absence of genetic testing, it is impossible to know with exactitude the parentage of any grape, and more so if it has not been carefully cultivated over time. This has been the case in the tiny local vineyards throughout South America where multiple varieties have been left to their own devices.

In South America, there is a growing interest in the indigenous/autochthonous grape varieties that have emerged over the course of the last several centuries amongst the small local plots of land where mixed varieties have crossed and developed freely. These genotypes are referred to as the Patrimonial Grapes and are divided into two groupings: traditional and criolla.

Traditional varieties are those grapes that were introduced in South America during the colonial era. The Criolla varieties are the autochthonous varieties that developed from the natural crossing of the traditional grapes or that came about from their mutations.

At the end of the 15th century and at the beginning of the 16th century, grapes were introduced to the Americas by way of the Iberian Peninsula and the Canary Islands. The first grapes arrived in Mexico, and then in South America. Iberians brought the first vines to Peru, “[a]ccording to historical references, the varieties were ‘Listan Prieto,’ ‘Muscat of Alexandria,’ ‘Muscat a petit grains,’ ‘Mollar Cano,’ ‘Albilla Real,’ ‘Breval Negro,’ ‘Palomino Fino,’ and ‘Moscatel Rosado’ (K. Mendoza, et al).

In the article “Prospection and identification of traditional-heritage Peruvian grapevine cultivars (Vitis vinifera L.) from Ica and Cañete valleys," Karl Mendoza and others go on to explain that the "... introduced cultivars were the basis for the development of viticulture in the region and gave origin to autochthonous cultivars resulting from crossings between them. In South America, these crossings are commonly known as ‘Criollas,’ being traditional cultivars of the region."

Wine is an intriguing and profound universe, one that I personally prefer to enjoy in my glass rather than analyze it to pieces. This is why I have narrowed my scope to just the grapes used in Peru for pisco given that there are only eight grape varieties that can be used. They make up a fascinating world of traditional- colonial grapes, criolla grapes, and a hybrid grape, and are made into stunning spirits in the country's various wine and pisco valleys.

Commonly organized into the "aromatic" and "non-aromatic" grapes, as the Denomination of Origin for pisco does, I say paradigms are meant to be broken and argue that they are better suited reorganized into the "traditional-colonial", "criolla," and "other" categories.


  1. Negra Criolla is the Peruvian name for the Listan Prieto grape in Spain, Negramol in the Canary Islands, and Misión in Mexico.

  2. Mollar refers to the Mollar Cano grape from Spain, though there are criolla Mollar grapes as well.

  3. Italia is the Peruvian name for the Muscat of Alexandria grape, an ancient variety from Greece that arrived in Peru via Spain.

  4. Albilla is the Peruvian name for the Palomino Fino grape from Spain.


  1. Quebranta is the offspring of the Listan Prieto + Mollar Cano grapes, born in Peru.

  2. Torontel is the offspring of the Listan Prieto + Muscat of Alexandria grapes, born in Peru.

  3. Moscatel is a family of grapes with disputed origins, likely with Listan Prieto + Muscat of Alexandria parentage.

  4. Mollar de Ica is the result of backcrossing by Quebranta + Mollar Cano grapes in Peru.

  5. Prieta Mollar is the result of backcrossing by Quebranta + Listan Prieto grapes in Peru.


  1. Uvina is also called Jacquez, is a hybrid with North American + European ancestry (Vitis aestivalis + Vitis vinifera) brought to Peru in the 20th century.

The criolla grapes should be thought about as grape families instead of single grapes in and of themselves. There are three types of Quebranta that have been identified: negra, rosada, and blanca, Moscatel is similar in the sense that there is a spectrum of phenotypes within the family found in the various wine-producing valleys of Peru and South America.

Centuries later, there are now Mollar grapes that have developed in Peru by making necessary adaptations for their own survival and proliferation, including backcrossing. “‘Mollar de Ica’ and ‘Prieta Mollar’ are backcrosses of ‘Quebranta’ by their parents ‘Mollar Cano’ and ‘Listan Prieto’, respectively. Backcrosses have been cited as a recurrent phenomenon in criollas" (k. Mendoza, et al.).

The Mollar Cano “[g]rapevine was introduced to Peru almost 500 years ago, as well as in the rest of South America. The crosses between varieties introduced at the beginning of South American viticulture are illustrative of the evolution in the local vineyards. This genetic resource was growing due to the emergent new varieties that were conserved, poorly identified, and cultivated in minority form in traditional vineyards. The crosses and backcrosses and selection were present, as in other regions in the world. These native progenies, with strong cultural roots and adaptation to the local environment, represent an opportunity for the development of local products" (K. Mendoza, et al).

Additionally, "...traditional and heritage varieties are being studied worldwide as a promising adaptation tool to climate change as they might be able to cope with expected future environmental conditions.” (K. Mendoza, et al.)

Grapes were imported to the Americas as early as the 15th century from Europe, yet over the course of hundreds of years resilient varieties have adapted to new terrains and have developed into distinctly American - South American - and Peruvian varieties. This is a developing space of investigation and new information is always forthcoming.

Stay tuned!


“Prospection and identification of traditional-heritage Peruvian grapevine cultivars (Vitis vinifera L.) from Ica and Cañete valleys”. K. Mendoza, G. Aliquo, J.A. Prieto, R. Blas, J. Flores, A. Casas, M. Grados, L. Aybar and M.R. Torres.

“Primeras Jornadas Latinoamericanas de Vinos y Variedades Patrimonials”, INTA Centro Regional Mendoza San Juan, youtube:

"The South American Wine Guide," Amanda Barnes.

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