World Champions: Peter Sisseck, Ribera del Duero, Spain

Peter Sisseck of Dominio de Pingus

© Carlos Gonzalez Armesto

Peter Sisseck of Dominio de Pingus

Peter Sisseck of Dominio de Pingus

© Carlos Gonzalez Armesto World Champions: Peter Sisseck, Ribera del Duero, Spain Pingus is cult - the first vintage of this red wine icon was bottled in 1995. Peter Sisseck, a native of Denmark, is now one of Spain's most renowned winemakers.

An alley in the sleepy village of Quintanilla de Onésimo in the Spanish wine-growing region of Ribera del Duero was the starting point of a success story that continues to this day. Here, in a small, inconspicuous winery in the immediate vicinity of the river, the wines of Dominio de Pingus mature. 

Here in the Calle Millán, there is nothing to suggest that behind these walls a red wine is slumbering that would lift the entire region, which has always been in the shadow of its competitor Rioja, onto the international wine stage with a bang. 

Of course, there was already Vega Sicilia, the aristocratic wine that was also the role model for Pingus, but in the mid-1990s, this wine legend was only a national great. Ribera del Duero only achieved international importance through the wine critic Robert Parker and the premiere wine of the young, very talented winemaker with a little Spanish-sounding name Peter Sisseck. And that's how it came about. 

Via Bordeaux to Spain

Sisseck was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1962, where he grew up. He came into contact with viticulture through his uncle Peter Vinding-Diers, who worked as an oenologist in France.  First, the young Sisseck worked for his uncle at Château Rahoul in Graves from 1983 to 1985, then he studied agriculture at the University of Bordeaux and graduated as an agricultural engineer. For him, it is clear that wine is his business. "That's why I applied to Paul Draper at Ridge Vineyards in California. I could have made great Monte Bellos there in the early 90s. At that very moment, I was offered the opportunity to completely set up Hacienda Monasterio in Spain, when I really only wanted to work there on an interim basis for a few months before heading to the US." 

Sisseck does not travel. He has taken a liking to Ribera del Duero. In 1992, he found a cellar master for the Hacienda Monasterio in Carlos de la Fuente, which he still runs today with partner Carlos del Rio González-Gordon from the González Byass sherry dynasty. Soon after, he develops another project of his own. In the first half of the 1990s, Sisseck discovers two small vineyards with ancient Tempranillo vines in San Cristobal and Barrosso in the La Horra region, which he is able to acquire.

The vines, raised in the traditional "en vaso" system, have never come into contact with artificial fertilisers or pesticides during their seventy-year life; the local small winegrowers have always been too poor for that. "That was exactly what I was looking for. Vines that offer little but terrific grape quality. And so, in addition to working for Hacienda Monasterio, I started doing my own thing." 

Breakthrough thanks to Parker

In the 1995 vintage, the wine called Pingus had its premiere and Peter Sisseck was initially bitterly disappointed. "I had produced about 4000 bottles and was sure that the wine was great. But the Spanish wine merchants to whom I offered Pingus didn't want to pay the asking price - and certainly not to a Dane." 

In the meantime, the young winemaker sends his wine to several wine critics, including Robert Parker in Maryland, USA. And he is immediately enthusiastic. The "Wine Advocate" judges: "I am absolutely serious when I say that this might be the greatest young red wine from Spain I have ever tasted." After rating the barrel sample with 96-100 points, Parker grades the 1997 Pingus with an enormous 98 points. Now it is not only the Spanish merchants who are beating down the doors of the neo-star winemaker. Sisseck decides to place his wines internationally over the Bordeaux place, the price has since risen to dizzying heights and is now around 800 euros for the current vintage. 

A total of 325 cases of the first vintage were produced, 75 of which were intended for America and are now resting at the bottom of the Atlantic after a shipwreck near the Azores. Since then, this wine has really taken off and fascinated collectors all over the world - not only because it has been awarded the coveted 100 points several times. If you are lucky enough to taste a bottle of the 2004 or 2005 Pingus today, the magic of this wine is impressively demonstrated in all its facets. 

Dominio de Pingus now produces three other wines. The second wine, Flor de Pingus, was also produced in 1995, the year it was launched. Initially there were 1000 cases of this wine, and there were already more than 100,000 bottles of the 2016 vintage. This excellent, powerful red has long since outgrown the status of a second wine, but at around one hundred euros, the price is not inconsiderable.

Things are more democratic with the latest wine, the PSI under the label Bodegas y Viñedos Alnardo which comes from grapes of contract winegrowers from the north and east of Aranda de Duero. The 300,000 bottles are made into a classic Ribera-del-Duero red wine in Sisseck's winery. For the sake of completeness, it should be mentioned that exclusively for his American importer, Sisseck bottles a minimal quantity that comes from a small parcel of Tinta del País planted in 1895. The wine is called Amelia, but the likelihood of ever coming across one of the 280 bottles is more than slim. 

»The old vineyards are my capital. I have been using biodynamic cultivation at Dominio de Pingus since 2000.«
Winemaker Peter Sisseck

Bordeaux and Jerez

The meteoric rise of Pingus coincided with that of the so-called garagists of Saint-Émilion, first and foremost Jean-Luc Thunevin of Château Valandraud, with whom Sisseck is best friends and where he shows his Pingus to international experts every year during the En-Primeur week. Since his student days, Sisseck has had a close connection to Bordeaux, which eventually led to an oenological commitment here as well. Since 2010, he has been running Château Rocheyron in Saint-Christophe-des-Bardes in Saint-Émilion together with the Swiss Silvio Denz, whom he met in his role as a consulting oenologist at the Catalan winery Clos d'Agon

With his latest project, Sisseck is now making headlines again with wine from Spain. "People have always asked me if I wouldn't like to make white wines. For me, that was also a question of the right terroir. In my opinion, the greatest Spanish white wines come from Jerez. So I decided to do a project there." 

Together with Carlos del Rio González-Gordon, of course. So in 2017, around 10 hectares of vineyards were acquired in Pago Balbaína, not far from El Puerto de Santa Maria, and the solera of Fino Camborio was taken over by Angel Zamorano from Bodegas Juan Piñero. Oenological consultant is the legendary Ramiro Ibáñez, who selected the best 65 botas for the creation of the new Fino Camborio. "In future, in Jerez, we will refer even more to the single vineyard sites, which are historically defined anyway." So Peter Sisseck's first Spanish white wine is also in the pipeline. And those who know Sisseck know that this man does not do things by halves.