DOMINIO DE PINGUS | Ribera del Duero, Spain - May 3rd, 2017
posted on 07/09/2017

Blogging Ribera del Duero was left in the middle due to my summer holidays and a heavy workload, but it's never too late! Especially when my next story is dedicated to the legendary, cult winery Dominio de Pingus!


For many wine-lovers worldwide Dominio de Pingus along with Vega Sicilia are the top producers of Ribera and definitely belong among the Spanish best. However, the two producers have more differences rather than similarities in both their history and wines. For instance, Vega Sicilia was founded in 1864, while Pingus has been around for just two decades: it was founded in 1995 by Danish Peter Sisseck. But how did Peter manage in just two decades to be selling all his wines En Primeur, one year ahead of their official release? And even more how they succeeded such thing with Pingus retailing at € 700-800 per bottle? Outstanding product quality, surgical precision in production, excessive emphasis on raw material from very old vines that have never been fertilized, as well as lots of luck, right timing and a strong producer personality. You see life is simple!

 

Dannish Peter Sisseck of cult winery Dominio de Pingus (Source)


Peter's uncle –who today makes wine in Sicily- had a Chateau in Graves of Bordeaux and has been a major influence for Peter. The later began as an agricultural engineer from Denmark and in the 1980s –after passing from Bordeaux- he ended up in Spain, working as a vineyard manager and winemaker at Hacienda Monasterio in the Ribera del Duero. In 1995, he released his first wine under the brand name Pingus, which the well-known wine critic Robert Parket described as "one of the most important and exciting wines I have ever tasted". The production was very small in the beginning, some 3,900 bottles, and the price of wine -supported by Parker's enthusiastic reviews that created "noise" in the US wine cycles- was set at $200 per bottle. But the wine became even more rare and sought-after when in 1997 the ship transporting a U.S. bound shipment of 900 bottles disappeared somewhere off the Azores in the North Atlantic Ocean. This event prompted a price rise to $500 per bottle. Speaking prices however, Peter disclaims responsibility. He says he did not himself set that price, but the market itself has decided to pay for the wine’s quality, scarcity and myth.

 

 

The front door of Dominio de Pingus

 

The steps that lead to the cellar


Dominio de Pingus's front door is just a six minutes’ drive from Vega Sicilia (and 30’ from Valladolid), hidden in a narrow street in the village of Quintanilla de Onésimo. You will not find any signposts or driving instructions unless you are a professional, so you will receive an e-mail with the instructions with an arrow pointing and stating "ring this bell when you arrive"! Since on the day I could visit them Peter was in the vineyards all day, I was welcomed by a cosmopolitan Russian oenologist who eagerly guided me and answered my questions.

 

The location of Dominio de Pingus in the northern part of the Iberian peninsula

 

 

During the harvest two sorting tables are set up in the courtyard for cluster selection and another one for grapes selection

 

Stones, wood and white walls dominate the exterior of the building

 

For all wines, each vineyard is vinified separately in small tanks before being assembled for the final blends

 

 

Oak barrels in the cellar

 

And back to the light!

 

I had the pleasure, honor and rare opportunity to taste three wines from two vintages each. For all wines, each vineyard has been vinified separately in 4,000-liter tanks before being assembled for blending. They all ferment spontaneously with their wild yeast, while they are exclusively sold En Primeur.


PSI (Ψ) 2015 (90% Tinto Fino, 10% Garnacha) - Peter chose the twenty-third letter of the Greek alphabet to name the entry level, cooperative-inspired wine. He buys grapes from around 800 winegrowers from 12 villages and 40-70 years’ old vineyards. He pays them according to quality and motivates them to practice biodynamic farming. This way he believed he can keep viticulture alive in more parts of his beloved Ribera. Black fruit, sweet cherry, alcohol-soaked fruits. While the nose is still nose, on the palate it is much more stylish, with high acidity, mature tannins and a refreshing cool sensation in the mouth. Minimum barrel use.


Approximate retail price: € 25-30 // Annual production 350,000 bottles

 

Samples from the barrels: Pingus, Flor de Pingus and Ψ (PSI), each from two vintages

 

Flor de Pingus 2015 (100% Tinto Fino) - Their second label produced from 80% purchased grapes and 20% grapes from rented vineyards in La Horra. Fantastic minerality, pencil shavings, red fruits. Nose still closed. In the mouth it has an excellent structure with full body; a fighter and a dancer at the same time. Very fresh on the palate, with minty notes, high, silky and marginally ripe tannins. Very long aftertaste. Flor is matured for 18-20 months in 30% new and 70% in second to fourth-use barrels, exclusively French oak.


Approximate retail price: € 80-90 // Annual production 75,000 bottles


Pingus 2015 (100% Tinto Fino) – From two vineyards in San Cristobal and Barroso planted in 1929. 4,5 hectares in total; the first consisting mainly of gravel, sand and chalk and the other mainly of clay. Traditional gobelet vine training in bush vines. The resulting wine delivers black fruits, eucalyptus, plums, forest fruits and blueberries. It will open up a lot in the future, it is still very young. High acidity and great tannins management; the latter are ideally matured, silky and finely ground. On the palate there is an extra vegetal and spice dimension. Outstanding length. Regarding oak handling, they used to use only new barrels in the past, for 24-36 months. But from 2013 onwards, they use only second-use French oak barrels.


Approximate retail price: € 700-1,000 // Annual production 6,000 bottles


I also sampled all three labels from 2016 harvest, right from the barrels. They cannot properly be evaluated yet, since we are talking about baby wines that are still close and non-intergrated. However their density and strength gives great promise for the future. Especially Pingus 2016 was notoriously fine with purity of fruit, cool character and the typical minty finish.

 

 

Tasting unique wines...

 

...with a parallel explanation of their origin

 

Shooting the Dominio de Pingus cellar. 60-70% of their production is directed to foreign markets

 

 

Among all these, during the last 6-7 years, Peter has created a farm for an even more vertical approach. The farm has horses and mules for the vineyard (working alongside a small tractor), cows, chicken, vegetables and green salads for the entire personnel to enjoy. And speaking about the employees, there are sixteen people working in the Company: two in the winery, four in the vineyard (see the ratio?), three at the lab –since they offer outsourced analyses for others- and the rest work in the office.


It is true that ratings and scores have helped the producer. Just consider the all-powerful Parker gave Pingus a perfect 100/100 for 2004 and 2012, creating extra noise and buzz for the wine. However, nothing is just a casual incident. Having solved their financial sustainability issues, what the Pingus team is only supposed to do is to produce wine masterpieces: at the same time arty and technical wines, with a highly scientific approach as well as fantasy. Does it sound easy to you? Well, you should think about it again!

 

Gregory Kontos, DipWSET


Wine writer and taster, sommelier graduate and WSET Diploma holder, with an appreciation for food, traveling, music, friends and bon vivant things in general. Co-partner at Aegean Food Exports and founder of Aegean Wine Selections, a Company focused in Greek wine exports. He is married to Stavroula Mariamou and they have a son. 

 

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