A very special opportunity to taste the wines of Vega Sicilia

Vega Sicilia is one of the greatest wine producers in the world and their wines are not easily accessible. When I was in Ribera del Duero a few years ago, I visited a handful of wineries but Vega Sicilia was not one of them. It has remained an elusive wine to me until I recently had dinner with Pablo Alvarez, owner of Vega Sicilia, which I wrote about in the Napa Valley Register and share here.

There are a lot of very good wines as well as a lot of great wines available to us. But there are some wines that have reached a pinnacle where they are enjoyed only by a small few who can afford them. Just saying their names results in a level of revelry. Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. Chateau Margaux. Chateau Lafite. Chateau Mouton-Rothschild. Penfolds. Vega Sicilia.

Vega Sicilia is considered the greatest wine producer in Spain and is recognized as one of most valued red wines in the world. While the wines are not impossible to find and purchase, they are also not readily available nor easily affordable. Located in Ribera del Duero in the north of Spain, visits to the winery are available only by appointment and you need a letter from the distributor or importer to get one of these coveted appointments. I recall traveling through Ribera del Duero a few years ago with the representatives from the region and they could not take me there for a visit. So, when I was recently invited to dinner in Los Angeles with Pablo Alvarez, owner of Vega Sicilia, I could not refuse.

Bodegas Vega Sicilia was founded in 1864 by Don Eloy Lecanda Chaves, a Bordeaux-trained Spanish winemaker. Returning from France with cuttings of Bordeaux varieties, he planted Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec alongside Tinto Fino, or Tempranillo, the indigenous variety of the region. Vega Sicilia brought international acclaim to Ribera del Duero for the first time after winning the 1929 World’s Fair in Barcelona.

In 1982, the Alvarez family, only the fourth family to own Vega Sicilia, purchased the estate. Vega Sicilia’s global reputation continued to grow to become one of the most coveted wines in the world. And with that came a scarcity in the market with an increase in demand. And Vega Sicilia is not in a rush to fill the demand as they are known to hold on to their inventory and age their wines in the barrel and bottle for many years before releasing them.

The flagship wine of Vega Sicilia is Unico, which translates to “unique” or “the only one”. A Gran Reserva, some consider this wine as a “first growth” from Spain. The wine is made with at least 80 percent of Tempranillo, as well as small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon. Vega Sicilia is the only winery in Ribera del Duero allowed to use Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux varieties in their wines. The wine is aged in large and small American and French oak barrels for as much as six years and then spends three years in the bottle. Unico is usually not released until at least ten years after the vintage, and sometimes longer.

Vega Sicilia Unico Reserva Especial is a signature non-vintage wine made from a blend of three vintages of Unico. Making a non-vintage wine in Spain was common to do in the early 1800s and Vega Sicilia continues the tradition with the Vega Sicilia Unico Reserva Especial which is available via strict allocation.

A third wine produced from grapes from the Vega Sicilia vineyard is Valbuena 5°, a wine made of mostly Tempranillo with a little Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine is aged for five years prior to release, hence the name 5°.

In addition to the wines made from the Vega Sicilia estate, Vega Sicilia produces additional wines from additional vineyards in Spain. The Alvarez family established the Alión winery next door to Vega Sicilia in 1991. Alión is a 100 percent Tinto Fino (Tempranillo) wine made from a curated selection of plots from across Ribera del Duero and then aged in predominantly French oak, and some American oak, for one year. The Pintia winery, established in 1997, is a 115-hectare vineyard in the Toro appellation, approximately 100 kilometers from Vega Sicilia where a 100 percent Tempranillo (Tinto de Toro) is produced.

In 2004, Vega Sicilia purchased, in partnership with the Compagnie Vinicole Baron Edmond de Rothschild, 92 hectares in Rioja. They had searched for the perfect land for more than ten years before they found this property that had 35-year-old vines made of specific low-yielding clones of Tempranillo. Macán, a wine exclusively made using Tempranillo grapes, fermented in French oak casks, barrel aged in new oak and finished in large oak casks for three years before bottling was first released in 2009. The grapes for Macán come from poor soils, gravel and calcareous marl, in comparison to the Macán Clásico, also made from Tempranillo, which is grown in chalky soils with sandy marl.

In addition to vineyards in Ribera del Duero, Rioja and Toro in Spain, Vega Sicilia also owns 120 hectares of vineyards in Hungary where they produce wines under the label Oremus. The vineyards were purchased in 1993 and the Alvarez family spent the last 25 years recuperating the vines.

At dinner, we enjoyed 12 wines from Vega Sicilia, eight of which were new releases:

Oremus Mandolás Tokaji 2018 Furmint Dry ($32.99) – A bright, crisp wine with notes of lime and stone minerality.

Macán Rioja 2015 ($102) – Dark fruit aromas on the nose lead to a supple palate with velvety tannins. Ready to drink now but can be help 15-20 years.

Macán Clásico 2016 ($60.99) – A young wine that is fresh, fruity and approachable. Ready to drink now but can be held for 10-15 years.

Bodegas Pintia 2015 Toro ($78.99) – A rustic, powerful wine with notes of dark fruits and pepper and grainy tannins on the palate.

Bodegas Alion 2016 Ribera del Duero ($116.99) – An elegant and complex wine with aromas of red fruits, dried fruit, spices and toasted wood.

Vega Sicilia Valbuena 5° 2015 Ribera del Duero ($214.99) – A beautiful wine with a nose of sweet floral and vanilla bean aromas and delicately sandy tannins.

Vega Sicilia Unico 2010 ($575) – Newly released, the wine is an opaque color. Earthy, tobacco, cedar and vanilla notes are complimented by strawberry and cherry aromas. The wine is harmonious on the palate with layers of flavor and fine tannins.

Vega Sicilia Unico 2009 ($575) – Cherry, plum, cedar, tobacco and brown spice notes are found in this muscular wine that has balanced tannins.

Vega Sicilia Unico Unico 2006 ($635) – Beautiful floral and lavender aromas as well as dark berry, spice, cedar and herbal notes are found in this full-bodied yet elegant wine.

Vega Sicilia Unico Reserva Especial 2020 ($759) – A blend of Unicos 2007, 2009 and 2010, this wine has aromas of dried black fruit, bramble, balsamic and chocolate notes. The wine is elegant and complex with a long finish.

Vega Sicilia Unico Reserva Especial 2019 ($715) – A blend of Unicos 2006, 2007 and 2009, this wine is elegant with notes of cherries, plums, tobacco and spice and is medium-bodied on the palate.

Oremus Tokaji Aszu 2013, 5 Puttonyos ($99.99 for 500ml) – A gorgeous wine with apricot, honeycomb and sweet spice aromas and vibrant acidity on the palate.

Read the original story in the Napa Valley Register.