Take a small annual production of around 500 cases, add quality fruit from very old vines, and a high Parker score upon initial release and you get—a cult wine. Pingus certainly qualifies. Danish winemaker Peter Sisseck left Bordeaux and came to Spain to develop Hacienda Monasterio’s wine project, but was besotted by the old vine Tempranillo (tinto fino) he found while exploring Ribera del Duero. He snapped up the vineyards, started his own label and entered his wine in the 1996 Bordeaux en primeur tasting where Robert Parker gave it a score of 96-100, commenting that it was one of the most exciting wines he had ever tasted. Now you rarely find it for under $800 per bottle.
Happily my wine tasting group was able to secure a bottle.
The secret of their success, aside from wonderful vineyards, is low yields—under 1 ton per acre compared to the generally recognized standard of 3.7 tons per acre and well under even the best Bordeaux chateaux. 2001 was the first year in which the grapes were certified bio-dynamic. At the time Sisseck was using 100% new French oak for 24 months, although in recent vintages he has been dialing back the oak treatment with primarily 2nd use barrels.
The test of a fine wine is in the finish and the finish on this wine is gorgeous—smoky, long and lifted with tannins the texture of cashmere. The nose is rich and powerful with blackberry and smoke dominant. Floral, red fruit and balsamic notes unfurl as the wine sits in the glass. As is often the case with great wines, the complexity emerges gradually over time. On the palate, the wine is dark-fruited and laced with roasted meat notes but the expectation of weight and concentration isn’t quite fulfilled. Surprisingly buoyant and elegant, it’s expansive at midpalate but never throws a big punch seamlessly wending its way to that ravishing finish.
Generally speaking, Spanish wines are defined by oak with vineyard expression playing a less important role. But a finish like that is made in the vineyard not in the barrel. This is about very carefully tended old vines, low yields, and precise berry selection.
It naturally invites comparisons with Ribera del Duero’s other renowned wine—Vega Sicilia Unico (which I reviewed in 2015). The Pingus is 100% Tempranillo while the Vega Sicilia is blended with 20% Cabernet. That is a crucial difference. Memory is an unreliable guide but Vegas Sicilia Unico had more complexity and power which is to be expected given the addition of Cabernet.
Another apt comparison is with another pricey product from Northern Spain–Bodega Numanthia-Termes “Termanthia” from Toro. The 2005, which we also tasted at this sitting, was huge, concentrated, and alcoholic with robust oak expression and soft tannins—a lovely wine but lacking the finesse of the Pingus.
At these prices one wants perfection. In the end, I was only modestly disappointed in the Pingus. I needed more midpalate depth for the experience to be complete but the elegant finish almost made up for it.
Spare, elongated melodic contours will highlight a finish like this.