Plenilunium de Luna Negra, is a dry red wine. Instagram

After helping bring Peruvian ceviche and pisco sour to the attention of the world, Bernardo Roca Rey has set his sights on the boutique wine market, and he's armed with a secret ingredient - a grape variety brought over by Spanish colonizers centuries ago and then forgotten.

The 73-year-old chair of Peru's gastronomy association began harvesting the grape in 2014 and produces 1,500 to 1,800 bottles a year of his dry red reserve wine Plenilunium de Luna Negra for the country's top restaurants. 

He's now seeking to expand production so he can start exporting it.

Roca Rey hopes Plenilunium will help change perceptions about Peru's wine-growing potential, similar to the way local chefs rediscovered the country's rich culinary heritage in the 1990s and turned the capital, Lima, into a magnet for foodies.

Plenilunium is the highest-rated among the more than 188 Peruvian wines reviewed by users of the website vivino.com. The 2014 vintage scored 4.3, putting it in the top 4 percent of all wines in the world for that year. The 2015 vintage will go on sale later this year.

Roca Rey discovered the grape for his Plenilunium wine on a small farm in the Andes mountains of southern Peru, where the Spanish established the first vineyards in the Americas four centuries ago to produce church wine. With no registered name, Roca Rey called it Luna Negra - "black moon" - and planted the vine on 1,500-year-old terraces in the Lunahuana Valley.

Roca Rey said he spoke to other winegrowers about jointly investing in Luna Negra and other local grapes but was turned down. They told him varieties such as cabernet sauvignon were a safer bet.

With land in Lunahuana scarce and expensive - the vineyard is just 5 hectares - Roca Rey also bought 500 hectares of desert in Paracas and in 2012 planted vines on 25 hectares of sand, fed by water from an underground river. There he grows Luna Negra grapes to make rosé. He also produces a dry white using muscat of Alexandria grapes and a red using cabernet sauvignon and syrah.

"They thought I was crazy to plant in the desert," Roca Rey said. "They all said it can't be done, that the Peruvian grape isn't good enough. So I decided to go it alone."

Peru exported $1.2 million (R16.5 million) of wine last year, a far cry from the $1.63 billion a year from neighbouring Chile. And while about 90 Chilean wines collected medals at this year's annual wine contest organized by the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles, Peru hasn't won any since the 2016 edition.