Final article of a three-part series.
Spain’s Ribera del Duero region has been producing wines for more than 2,000 years, since the area was settled by Romans. Most wines from this hot, hilly land adjacent to the Duero River are categorized according to the appellation’s traditional system: joven wines are mere months old, crianza and reserva wines have been aged two and three years respectively, and gran reserva wines are 5 years old, bottled only during exceptional harvests.

But the thoroughly New World-styled wines of Bodegas Aalto and Pingus dismiss these classifications entirely.

“Traditions come from a need or a necessity,” says Peter Sisseck, winemaker and owner of Dominio de Pingus– perhaps the smallest winery in Ribera del Duero, which produces its most expensive wine. “Today the classification system is not necessary to get the best wines”.

Sisseck is Danish and his family owns a few Bordeaux chateaux. In 1993, he came to Ribera del Duero to manage Hacienda Monasterio. Seeing the old vines in various parts of the region, Sisseck decided in 1995 to make his own wine and gave it his childhood nickname, Pingus. He brought his first vintage, the 1996, to Bordeaux for that region’s annual spring tasting, and wine critic Robert Parker’s effusive praise immediately established Pingus.

Sisseck uses earth-friendly biodynamic methods to make his wines. ”I try to recreate the forest in my vineyard,” he says. “Vineyards are an invention of man into the ecosystem, so we must limit our intervention by chemicals.”

I stood in the winery, which is slightly larger than a four-car garage, tasting the 2009 and 2010 Flor de Pingus and Pingus wines. Sisseck thinks Ribera del Duero’s 2009 vintage is outstanding. He bottled both 2009 wines in mid-June and will ship to America toward the end of this year. Neither wine was labeled with the Ribera del Duero’s traditional classifications.

The 2009 Flor de Pingus is made in an equal proportion of new and used French oak barrels. Its very attractive vanilla, spice and black cherry aroma is matched by the tasty black fruit flavor. The soft tannins create a cashmere-like texture and a luxurious finish.

The 2009 Pingus is made in a mix of new and used French oak barrels. Black cherry and Darjeeling tea aromas greet the nose; its full-body is packed with rich black fruit flavors laced with oak influence. A seamless finish deposits a pleasing mint aftertaste.

Both wines should be cellared for about 3 years after arriving in our market.

The 2009 Flor de Pingus will be approximately $95; and the 2009 Pingus $825.

Javier Zaccagnini, the managing partner of another Ribera vineyard, Bodegas Aalto, could outrun the Energizer bunny.

He skipped up and down the winery stairwells, spoke flawless English (faster than I do), and linked winemaking concepts with computer speed. I hope that at the end of his day, his wife, a professional classical violinist, plays Vivaldi or Albinoni sonatas for him.

Aalto was founded in 1999 with Zaccagnini and Mariano Garcia, who for 30 years was the winemaker at the world-renowned Vega-Sicilia.

Aalto has also cast aside the traditional classification system for its two wines, Aalto and PS.

PS is a selection of the best grapes from exceptional plots in the best vintages Zaccagnini says. It is aged only in new French oak barrels. Aalto is aged in 85 percent French oak and 15 percent American oak barrels, half new and the balance from 1 to 3 years old.

At the winery, I tasted the 2008 Aalto and PS 2008 and 2006. (No PS was made in 2007). I retasted the 2008 Aalto at home. At both tastings, the wine was red plum-colored with oak scents of black olive and cinnamon. Black cherry and new oak vanilla flavors cross the palate with a velvety texture and excellent balance.

I decanted the bottle, and after four hours of aeration the wine relinquished its new oak influence, leaving a much better blackberry flavor.

The 2006 and 2008 PS tasted bigger than the Aalto in every aspect. The 2006 PS will arrive in our market in September.

The 2008 Aalto retails for approximately $49; expect the 2006 PS to cost about $115.