Bodegas Vega Sicilia in Ribera Del Duero is Spain’s most famous winery. Its flagship wine, which is widely regarded as Spain’s best, is the tempranillo-based Vega Sicilia Único Reserva Especial. Michael Broadbent MW describes this wine as “Lafite of Spain”.
What I find fascinating is that the wine is actually a non-vintage blend. The 2010 release, for example, is a blend of the 1991, 1994, and 1995 vintages. But as Jay Miller of the Wine Advocate notes, “what vintages are in each bottling..makes little difference. The Reserva Especials are blended to a house style designed to reflect Vega Sicilia at its very best.”( Wine Advocate # 189 June 2010)
As I mentioned in my previous post, Penfolds Bin 389: Perfecting the Art of Blending, the Penfolds fabled Grange and Bin 389 are made very much to a house style. But the Reserva Especial takes the art of blending red wine to a whole new level.
Vega Sicilia also makes a highly acclaimed vintage wine, the Vega Sicilia Único Gran Reserva. It is only made with the best vintages and released only after a minimum of 10 years of ageing: seven years in barrel (a mix of new and seasoned American and French oak) and at least three years in bottle! Like the Especial Reserva, this wine is also renowned for its longevity. They can be drunk young, but will also age gracefully for 20 to 25 years. As Miller remarks, “When you consider that the Reserva Especial sells for less than half the price of a Bordeaux First Growth (and you don’t have to wait for 20 years for it to be approachable) it is one of the great bargains in world-class wine.” (Wine Advocate # 189 June 2010)
The Vega Sicilia vines were first planted in 1864 near the town of Valbuena in the Duero valley. Today most of the vines are tempranillo, but in a nod to the original founder Don Eloy Lecanda Chaves who returned from Bordeaux with Bordelais grape varieties, small plantings of cabernet sauvignon, malbec and merlot are also blended into the three key Vega Sicilia wines.
The second wine, the Vega Sicilia Valbuena 5º, is made from younger vines or from Único grapes in years when the vintage is deemed to be not of the Único standard.
Since 1982 the winery has been in the hands of the Álvarez family, and the wines are made under the direction of chief winemaker Xaviar Ausás.
Tradition, innovation and a meticulous attention to detail are hallmarks of this exceptional winery. Yields are deliberately kept low through green harvesting so the nuances of the clay limestone soils are transferred to the grapes; grapes are hand-picked and rigorously sorted. The winery has its own cooperage, and for the Único alcoholic fermentation takes place in new American oak vats. After fermentation the wine is rotated from new casks to casks that are more and more used until the right balance of wine and oak is achieved. It then rests in barrel for seven years before bottling.
Probably only a baby elephant has a longer gestation period, but by all accounts the results are worth it! Here’s Miller’s review of the 98 point 2009 release of the Único Reserva Especial:
Dark ruby in color, it delivers a super-fragrant aromatic array of cigar box, leather, mineral, truffle, incense, and blackberry. On the palate it is mouth filling, complex, and remarkably light on its feet for such a concentrated, powerful effort. Opulent, rich, and perfectly balanced, it will drink well for at least another 25 years. (Wine Advocate # 183 June 2009)