Few wine lovers are lucky enough to taste a single vintage of Pingus, the cult Tempranillo of Spain’s Ribera del Duero region. Guests of the 2022 Wine Experience got three in one sitting. Dominio de Pingus founder and winemaker Peter Sisseck led a tasting seminar starring the 2018, 2016 and 2010 vintages of his incredibly rare (and expensive) cuvée.
“My wines early on were made with a lot of love, but I had no idea if I was making wine that could be aged and improve with time,” said Sisseck, who helped put Ribera del Duero on the wine map in the mid-1990s. “It was a lucky experiment. Sometimes experiments become traditions when they succeed.”
A native of Denmark, Sisseck arrived in Spain after making wine in Bordeaux. He fell in love with the region and stayed, soon discovering two parcels of extremely old Tempranillo vines, San Cristobal and Barrosso, from which he began making wine. Success came fast: He sold his first vintage, 1995, to the French (after Spanish merchants rejected it), and it was an instant hit. The first shipment of Pingus headed to the U.S. sank in the Atlantic, but that only fueled demand for the elusive red.
His secret? Old Tempranillo vineyards planted in 1929, which he farms meticulously. “We work to keep [the vineyard] as lush as possible, for sun protection,” Sisseck said. “In the village they laugh at us. They don’t understand why we are always working in our vineyard all year long.”
Despite Pingus’ instant success, however, Sisseck tirelessly fine-tunes his viticulture and winemaking practices. “Starting in the 2009 and 2010 vintages, when warmer temperatures really began to manifest, we realized we had to work with higher yields,” he said of changing climate trends in Ribera del Duero. “If we worked with low yields, like the old days, the wines would be over-concentrated. I used to be the last to pick, and now I am probably the first.”
He’s also changed the barrel-aging regimen. “I learned from the 2005 vintage that years with higher alcohol levels extract more tannin from the oak, so we stopped using new oak.”
The Dominio de Pingus Ribera del Duero 2010 (93 points, $1,000) reflects those style shifts, showing balance and longevity in spite of its 15 percent alcohol. “It’s still a baby,” Sisseck said.
The 2016 is denser, a result of lower yields, and the 2018 showcases great power and length, with a refreshing menthol note. “All the wines show the Pingus hallmarks of freshness and length,” observed Wine Spectator senior editor Alison Napjus. “The wines have elegance across the board.”
Sisseck still believes his best vintages are ahead of him. “I just finished with the 2022 vintage, and I think it is going to be historic.” In spite of the hot, dry growing season and a lot of doubt that the vintage would enable him to “harvest anything of worth,” he says the wines are stunning. “It turns out we made something I have never made before in my life.”
“But what about the price? $1,000 a bottle?” Napjus teased. Sisseck smiled, having clearly heard this question before. “It’s cheaper than Romanée-Conti!”
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