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Pingus to cut down on new oak, says Peter Sisseck

Peter Sisseck of Dominio de Pingus, one of Spain's most renowned bodegas, is radically reducing the amount of oak he uses for his wines.

Pingus in Ribera del Duero is one of the most celebrated, and expensive, micro-cuvees of Spain, with prices on the most sought-after vintages reaching first-growth levels: the 2004 Pingus is over £8000 a case.

Peter Sisseck founded the winery in 1995, and quickly reduced yields – harvests never go above 12 ha/hl – and started the practice of putting the wine into fresh new barrels after malolactic fermentation and coining the expression ‘200% new oak’.

Now he has reduced his annual barrel purchase from about 250 per year to 100 per year, and is likely to buy even less than that in future years, he told Decanter.com.

Sisseck started scaling down oak ageing in 2006, when he used 50% new and 50% used (mostly second-fill) barrels.

The 2008 vintage of Pingus was the first time the wine was aged in 100% old barrels, apart from the three months of malolactic fermentation.

‘We are trying to avoid too much wood contact,’ he said, stressing that this was ‘nothing to do with the recession and the cost of barrels’- indeed, he is now using one of the most expensive barrels on the market, the T5 from Taransaud, the standard 225litre version of which costs up to €1200, twice the price of a normal barrel.

The T5, which is made from planks that are aged for five years, twice as long as normal, is still economical, Sisseck reckons, as you can use it for much longer than a normal barrel.

Sisseck’s reputation for intensive use of oak came from his handling of a particular plot, he said, which always showed reductive characters in barrel.

‘This was due to its slightly underripe tannins, which absorbed oxygen. I found that if I put it in new oak after malolactic, it didn’t reduce so heavily, hence the 200% new oak label.’

As the vineyards get better, and are better managed, there is less and less need to use oak, he said. He considers over-use of oak ‘lazy winemaking – it should all happen in the vineyard.’

He also said that with the introduction of Psi – a project working with growers to preserve old vines in Ribera del Duero – in 2006 meant he now had wine to put into the barrels that he otherwise would have sold as it is too costly to store empty barrels, which easily attract bacteria.

‘The 2010 Flor de Pingus [the sister wine of Pingus] has just been bottled, and the empty barrels, which were new in 2009, will be used for 2011 Psi, and after that for Pingus 2010, which will be bottled in September 2012. The barrels will then be sold.’

Written by Adam Lechmere

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