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Flor de Pingus 2000

Another break from the Loire (and Champagne) this week, to allow a brief foray into a region with which I am fairly unfamiliar, this being the Ribera del Duero. My experience of the wines of the Duero is very slim, probably encompassing little more than a fabulous and probably never to be repeated tasting of Vega Sicilia a few years ago and the occasional ageworthy bottle from Pesquera and Valduero. It's a great shame as my hit-rate of good bottles here seems to have been very high - perhaps I have just been very selective. Or maybe just lucky!

Flor de Pingus 2000This week's wine continues the theme of careful selection, being the 'second' wine from the highly-regarded Dominio de Pingus, which is home to Peter Sisseck. Sisseck, who is Danish by birth and a Bordeaux-trained oenologist, came to the Duero in the mid-1990s looking for vines. Having started up as general manager with Hacienda Monsterio, within a couple of years he was looking to set up independently. He searched for mature bush vine Tinto Fino (which he distinguishes from 'foreign' Tempranillo, such as vines brought in from Rioja), finally locating some 5 hectares of such vines near La Horra, only 10-15 kilometres from Pesquera and Valbuena to the south-west. He kicked off with his first vintage of Pingus, with yields in the order of 12 hl/ha, in 1995. The vines - the exact location of which remains somewhat obscure - had always been organically farmed and they remained so up to 2000, since when they have been biodynamic, the vineyards a little piece of Spanish viticultural history. Perhaps influenced by his Bordeaux training the wines were fermented and raised in French oak, and the end product became an international success story. Assisted by marketing from Bordeaux négociant Jeffrey Davies it quickly achieved cult status (the loss of 75 cases in a shipwreck in the Atlantic contributed somewhat towards this accolade), and today it wears an astronomical price tag.

That is Pingus though, and this week's wine is Flor de Pingus, regarded by many as a second wine of the estate although that is perhaps not the best description, in the same way that Les Forts de Latour and Clos du Marquis are not really second wines of Latour and Léoville Las Cases. The fruit for Flor de Pingus is made partly from La Horra fruit, from vines not producing quality adequate for Pingus, but also from rented vines, so it has - in part at least - a distinct origin from the Pingus grand vin. Although handled with the same level of care, the wine is fermented in steel rather than oak, Sisseck having developed something of a reputation for the use of 200% new oak (the rather obscure term used to describe malolactic and a period of élevage in new oak, followed by subsequent racking into more new oak for further ageing) with Pingus. It is a much more accessible wine than Pingus, having a larger production (perhaps 5000 cases versus maybe 500 of Pingus per annum) and distribution, as well as being priced at a much more friendly level.

The 2000 Flor de Pingus was left in a decanter for at least two hours, and savoured over several more. It has a glossy hue in the glass, deeply coloured, but with a fresh garnet-red rim, and certainly not an over-the-top or opaque wine. On the nose alone I would struggle, if tasting blind (which I'm not) to place this outside Bordeaux. It has a very well defined body of dark fruits, alongside a fleeting green peppercorn and mint character. The fruit has a plum skin and dry damson style, with a smoky, cabinet-rubbed-with-charcoal edge to it, followed by white chocolate (subtle) mixed with star anise, curranty fruit and sage (perhaps more of a clue to the Duero origin). Most importantly it seems well contained, straight rather than overly broad and fat. This comes through on the palate which has only moderate weight on entry, juxtaposed against a firm charcoal-tannin grip, although right at the bottom there is a velvety, solid, extract-derived substance and texture. It hides its 14% alcohol remarkably well. It has the perfect structure and substance for roast beef, firm but not austere, textured but polished rather than soft.....and that is just what I ate with it - boeuf en croute, in fact. Good, gently spicy length too. Still on the way up in all honesty, but I enjoyed this - sadly my only bottle - very much now. 17.5+/20 (8/3/10)

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