Spanish Icons in New York

Two legendary Spanish winemakers take on NYC.


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On occasion, winemakers can achieve rock-star status; call them icons in their craft. From Spain, winemakers Alvaro Palacios and Peter Sisseck have spent the past 15 years climbing to the pinnacle of their field. Thus, when the duo visited New York late last month to show off no fewer than 17 of the wines that have made them famous and to discuss what has driven them to peak of their profession, it was the wine media's version of Must-See TV.

If you are not familiar with Palacios, Wine Enthusiast Magazine's Winemaker of the Year in 2003 and the man behind trend-setting red wines hailing from three different Spanish wine regions, or Sisseck, a Dane who has been crafting some of Ribera del Duero's best wines since the mid-1990s, then it's time to get to know them. For it's these two hombres, along with a handful of others, that have pushed Spanish wine to the forefront of the global wine market. Without wines like Palacios's L'Ermita and Finca Dofí (both from the Priorat region) or Sisseck's Hacienda Monasterio and Pingus (each from Ribera), Spain would not be looked at as an honest competitor to France and Italy that it has become. More likely, it would still be viewed as Western Europe's poor stepsister, capable of producing plenty of quaffable wines but nothing at the world-class level.

At the seminar in New York sponsored by Wines From Spain, members of the press and trade learned about the pair's dedication to low-yield viticulture, the use of natural yeasts for fermentation, and each man's dedication to wine regions that had either fallen out of favor and needed revitalization or were complete eye sores. For Palacios, that meant arriving in Priorat in the late 1980s and staking a claim to this once-famous region (see True Spanish Terroir, Wine Enthusiast, October 2005). It also meant doing the same thing a decade later in Bierzo, in northwest Spain, and helping to rebuild his family's winery in Rioja. For Sisseck, who is related to the Vinding Diers family of Danish winemakers, it meant coming to Ribera del Duero in Spain's desolate central plains and finding old vineyards of Tempranillo that could yield fruit capable of being made into great wine.

In tasting wines from Priorat, Ribera del Duero, Bierzo, Rioja and Empordà-Costa Brava, it is more than obvious that both deserve their iconic statuses. They are dedicated, meticulous and pretty good at marketing as well. And since both are in their early 40s we should only expect more great wines from each as time rolls on. For that we say muchas gracias.

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