SISSECK THE WINEMAKER
If the name Peter Sisseck does not ring a bell, then no wine lover cannot have heard of Pingus, one of Spain’s premium wines in quality and price. Sisseck is from Denmark, a country where the only wines grown are those using the same grapes as in New Zealand, and then just since 2009. Quite what made him decide to go and work in the Ribera del Duero region of Spain is not clear, although his uncle did import French wines into Denmark in the 1980s. He did, however, become qualified enough to land his first job there as technical director of Hacienda Monasterio, which has always been a landmark brand even though it is geographically a few kilometres outside the official Denomination of Origen frontiers. Sisseck quickly decided that he was in the right area, and it was not long before he was setting up his own project in an old four-and-a-half-hectare vineyard near Burgos. This would turn out to be the birthplace of the legendary Pingus, the 5,000 bottles of which start with grapes from those long-established vines.
Even the early vintages must have been outstanding, as wine critic Robert Parker tasted the first Pingus in 1995 and awarded it 95 points, at that time the highest score ever given to a Spanish wine. The wine has transformed over the years, and Sisseck’s original love affair with new oak would seem to be over. The current vintages are matured increasingly in used oak barrels, resulting in a less spectacular first taste but one more in keeping with current consumer trends. If you are lucky enough to find a bottle (nearly all online distributors show it as “agotado” – or “sold out”) it will cost you around €1,150 for the 2017 vintage and €1,550 for the 2014. There is a less expensive stablemate, which by any standards is a superb wine, Flor de Pingus, of which 10 times the quantity is made – enabling it to be sold for around €115 for the 2018 vintage. Yes, a very high price by any standards, but it is probably among Spain’s top 10 great red wines so, even if you only taste it once in a decade, you may understand what the fuss is all about. It is perhaps Sisseck’s third “Pingus leg” that is arousing most interest among erudite aficionados these days, Psi, a project that gets local growers to concentrate on old vines on small land holdings and, turning its back on oak in favour of cement tanks, involves increasing usage of the Garnacha grape. Restlessness is his middle name, and it is hard to see what Sisseck would do if he were not forever involved in new projects. Even the tragic death of his daughter in a road accident did not avert his ambition to keep producing unusual and excellent wines. A low-key believer in biodynamic growing techniques, he considers his most important mission is to teach people how to grow crops with sustainable procedures. He is very much a believer in the increasingly accepted theory that we are merely the caretakers of the land we farm, caring for it in trust for future generations. One example of this is his commitment to use horses in the vineyards instead of machines.
As a mark of his success and acceptance within Spain’s winemaking community, Sisseck has been appointed to the Ribera del Duero Regulatory Council. He also acts as consultant for a Catalan bodega, and with a partner owns a vineyard in Bordeaux. Most interesting of all is his current involvement in the sherry area, and he has been quoted as saying that the solera system, the standard sherryageing technique, is one of the wonders of the wine world. Indeed, his first sherry has just hit the market. Obviously a man for all wine lovers to watch…
By AJ Linn