[Image: Bunch of Grapes]
Europe Wine Diary 1998

© Copyright 1998 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

Spain - Ribera del Duero

Wednesday, May 20, 1998

Dominio Pingus, Quintanilla de Onésimo, Ribera del Duero

Peter Sisseck

Reluctant to waste a drop of his great 1997, Peter Sisseck, the young, Danish-born wine maker of Dominio Pingus, returns a sample to the barrel after a tasting.

Pingus 1997 Ribera del Duero (barrel sample) - Very dark but surprisingly clear for an unfiltered sample, it breathes a remarkable scent, rich and full raspberry and currant fruit, tar and smoke and violets, licorice and mint. Aromas carry over to the palate, big and rich, both powerful and elegant.

Fleur de Pingus 1996 Ribera del Duero (barrel sample) - Clear dark garnet, with fragrant raspberry and wildflower aromas and ripe, full fresh-fruit flavors structured with acidity and tannins. To be bottled in July, a ration of it will be available in the U.S. around December "if it doesn't sink," wine maker Peter Sisseck jokes, recalling that 75 cases of last year's vintage were lost in a shipwreck.

Pingus 1996 Ribera del Duero (barrel sample) - Very dark reddish-purple. Ripe, brooding berry fruit limned by licorice and mint. Delicious flavor, indrecible extract, balanced and elegant. May be bottled in late summer 1998.

Abadia Retuerta, Sardón de Duero

Abadia Retuerta
Abadia Retuerta's vineyards (winery offices in the distance) may be the largest properties in the Ribera del Duero.

Abadia Retuerta 1997 Rivola Sardón de Duero - Dark garnet color, with very minty berry fruit aromas. Tart, a little green, a pleasant quaff but shows the effects of a less-than-ideal vintage. Not yet released.

Abadia Retuerta 1996 Rivola Sardón de Duero - Dark garnet color; black fruit, mint and spice, very appealing aromas. Full, ripe and tart, currently available in the U.S. in the $10 range, which makes it a very good buy.

Abadia Retuerta 1996 Primicia Sardón de Duero - Sibling to the Rivola but un-oaked, this bottling is unavailable in the U.S. because the importer, I'm told, feels that there's little market for it. I wish he'd gone the other way. It's a delicious wine, dark reddish-purple with smoky berry fruit aromas that carry over intact to the palate, juicy and fresh.

Abadia Retuerta 1996 Sardón de Duero - Inky dark garnet, with good mint, licorice and cherry-berry aromas and a full, complex, mouth-filling flavor, still quite tannic but already a delight. Scheduled for autumn 1998 release in the U.S.

Abadia Retuerta 1996 Pago Valdebellón Sardón de Duero - Inky garnet, almost black. Blackcurrant, spice and subtle mint aromas, intense and structured, impressive wine. (100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, unfiltered and unfined.)

Abadia Retuerta 1996 Pago Negralada Sardón de Duero - Inky dark reddish-purple. Black fruit, tar and smoke aromas; generous, extracted and lemon-tart on the palate, full of hulking fruit, but balance carries it. Tannins present but cloaked by fruit. Delicious. (100 percent Tempranillo.)

Vega Sicilia
Vega Sicilia's historic winery, which includes a chapel for the families of employees, nestles in a parklike setting.

Vega Sicilia, Valbuena de Duero, Ribera del Duero


Vega Sicilia's Managing Director Pablo Alvarez Mezquiriz (left) and wine maker Javier Ausas take a sample of Alion '95 out into the vineyard with Victor de la Serna.

Alion 1997 Ribera del Duero (barrel sample) - Opaque purple, a bit sulfury; tar and smoke, black fruit and herbal notes. Very young for evaluation, but already showing impressive extract, big fruit and tannic structure.

Alion 1996 Ribera del Duero (from tank on the bottling line) - Very dark ruby. Tight but not entirely closed, showing juice red fruit and aromatics, herbes and pine. Juicy and tart, ripe fruit overwhelms big tannins.

Alion 1995 Ribera del Duero - Opaque. Delicious black fruit aromas with an overlay of mint. Perhaps not as concentrated as the 1996, but still full and fruity with a big, elegant structure. (Scheduled for March 1999 release.)

Vega Sicilia 1997 Unico Ribera del Duero - Too young for wine maker Javier Ausas and Managing Director Pablo Alvarez Mezquiriz to judge, this vintage may or may not ever be bottled, depending on how it evolves. At this point, it's black in color and brooding in nature, with huge black fruit and deep, dark and tannic flavors.

Vega Sicilia 1994 Valbuena Ribera del Duero - Inky reddish-purple, showing black fruit and aromatic herbal aromas, rosemary and sage and a whiff of anise. Ripe red fruit and tart acidity, elegant and balanced. (Scheduled for release in 1999.)

Vega Sicilia's wines may mature in barrels for 10 years or more, gradually moving from new oak to older casks like these, said to be more than 40 years old.
Vega Sicilia 1987 Unico Ribera del Duero - Very dark garnet with a clear edge. Complex black-fruit flavors with hints of brandied cherries, licorice and crême brûlée. Big and balanced flavors, ripe fruit with layered nuances that mirror the nose. (Scheduled for release in 2001.)

Vega Sicilia 1981 Unico Ribera del Duero - Very dark garnet, black at the center. Black cherry and mineral scents, full but elusive. Incredible flavor, full and round, sweet fruit, intense yet balanced. (Currently available, as is the 1986, which we didn't taste but which is purportedly a bit more "exotic" in the style of the 1987.)

Also tasted with lunch at the winery, demonstrating Pablo Alvarez Mezquiriz's justifiably self-confident penchant for presenting his wines in comparison with the world's greatest bottles:

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti 1995 La Tâche - Clear, ruby color, with a delicate perfumed red-fruit aroma that seems subtle but just keeps on coming. Fills the mouth with a burst of red fruits and floral scents. A bit closed at first, but over an hour (in a Riedel Burgundy glass) it opens up to remarkable complexity, like a rose garden. A certifiably world-class wine; yet with the luxurious option of both this and the '81 Unico at my place, I find myself choosing not this glass but the Unico for more.

With dessert, an excellent older Tokaji. (Vega Sicilia is its Spanish importer, as it is for Romanée-Conti.)

Oremus 1975 Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos - Clear, bright amber-gold. Wonderful scent of clover honey, without a hint of the funky, raisiny quality of many of the older Tokajis that preceded the fall of the Iron Curtain. Remarkably fresh on the palate, honey and golden currants, rich sweetness nicely structured with fresh-fruit acidity.

Lunch at Vega Sicilia

   Serrano ham, croquetas, Castellan ewe's milk cheese and fried anchovies with crusty Castilian bread, white and dense as angel-food cake.

First course:
   White asparagus, freshly picked from the winery's garden.

Second course:
   Potato slices dredged in flour and egg and fried, served in a thick egg and parsley sauce.

Third course:
   Roast baby lamb with lettuce dressed with oil and lemon.

Fourth course:
   Grilled lamb chops with pommes frites.

   Castilian rice pudding.

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