Since 1982 when the Alvarez family took ownership of Vega Sicilia, the same year that the Ribera del Duero got its DO status, the winery has been expanded, modernised and changes made to its portfolio. We tasted the six Spanish reds plus a range of Tokai from the Hungarian winery that Alvarez built in 1999.
The 2005 Unico has a feminine, Burgundian quality and promises great things to come but it was the Valbuena that we thought was the star of the new Vega-Sicilia portfolio tasting.
Vega-Sicilia, the Spanish wine producer responsible for Unico and Alion, amongst others, was in town to show its Ribera del Duero wines, and those from Toro and Rioja.
Apart from the reds, Vega-Sicilia produces a range of Tokai in Hungary from a single dry Furmint to three sweet wines going up by years in barrel and bottle and numbers of putonyos (baskets of fruit).
Starting with the 2015 Mandolás Dry Furmint seemed sensible enough, an uber-dry Furmint with zippy citrus acidity. It’s a 2015 and obviously way too young but it would make an excellent match with sushi and can handle ginger and wasabi no problem.
Personally (and it is a personal thing) I would wait 2-5 years when the wine will develop more complexity and generally quieten down a bit.
Seven reds followed and the thought that was overriding in my mind was the one of how long to store a wine and when to drink it. All of the reds were way too young, of course, and obviously showed youthful, grippy tannins, resins and in some cases were vivid purple to the eye.
It is a theme I often return to and is one of my bugbears that generally people drink wine way too soon before they are meant to be drunk, which goes against the timeframe built into the wines by the winemaker. It is no coincidence to be thinking this with wines like the Vega-Sicilia range which are built for the long term and all need quite a few more years in the bottle before they will become more yielding.
The new Vega-Sicilia range goes from the 2012 Pintia (Toro), the 2013 Alion (Ribera del Duero), two 2013 Riojas – Macán Classico and Macán , the 2012 Valbuena (Ribera del Duero) and 2005 Unico (Ribera del Duero).
As a special treat we tasted the 2017 Reserva Especial (Ribera del Duero) that is a blend of the 2002/4/6 Unico vintages. This was the only red shown that could easily be drunk now. This is an impressive, serious dry wine that had clipped tannin but great fruit, density and layers. It was very inviting and agreeable, although with strict allocation you might find it hard to get hold of.
Of the other reds I thought the Valbuena was showing really well.
It is a big-boned red that obviously has plenty of tannin, given its youth and three years ageing in barrel, but these are fine on the palate and have a rounded edge coming perhaps from half the barrel age being in large format (a development introduced in 2010).
There was an inviting and enjoyable dark depth to the wine that stood out from the others in the range. Flavours of Christmas spices, balsamic, orange peel, green leaf, rich, dark fruit all contained in its wonderful dark inkiness. This could be drunk now quite easily. Incidentally this is the first Valbuena to have 100% Tempranillo, the Merlot that is usually used in the blend not being quite right in this dry year, apparently.
The rest of the wines really do require more time or the right foods. The Pintia was a bit of a rustic bruiser. I loved its quinine-purple edges and its forward fruit but it has a green grip that will slowly fade after a few years in the bottle, or with a spicy meat stew if the wine really has to be opened now. The Pintia comes from another good vintage in Toro, from 40-60 year old vines of the local strain of Tempranillo called Tinta de Toro.
The Alion and the two Macan Riojas had a similar (some may say feminine) elegance to the fruit with an almost austere edge on the entry with high acidity. I thought the Alion needed so many more years.
Which leaves the Unico, the icon wine that has made the name of this winery, a wine that is only made in exceptional years and which has a minimum of 10 years ageing, in this case 11.
For a start it is not a typical Unico – this is less masculine than some of its counterparts and, after the impetuosity of some of the younger wines, this felt almost shy and retiring, taking time to open out in the glass.
This was seriously complex as you would expect with rich red fruits, redcurrants, sweet tobacco, mocha, citrus peel and spice box mixed into a heady blend. There was a terrific, almost Bugundian, texture and tension in the wine. An elegance that I really wasn’t expecting.
I can imagine this developing well over the coming years, I certainly wouldn’t open it for three years at least.
The Vega-Sicilia wines are all available from Fields, Morris & Verdin
Lead photograph courtesy of Tempos Vega Sicilia