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Spain's 1st Growth producer Vega Sicilia

28 April 2015|Cellar Journal

Vega Sicilia



Founded in 1864, Vega Sicilia has always been one of Spain's most revered wines, notoriously exclusive amongst Spain's rich and famous. Unico and Valbuena, their two top wines, aged 10 years and 5 years respectively, date back to 1915, and the story has been yet further built by the acquisition of Alion in 1991 and Pintia in 1997.

The doyen of UK wine writers Hugh Johnson compares Vega Sicilia Unico to a much warmer version of Latour, owing to the significantly warmer climate in Ribera del Duero.

The comparison to Bordeaux is apt, since the original vines planted included significant portions of Cabernet, Merlot and Malbec. Later plantings leaned more towards Tempranillo, but still some 40% of their Ribera vineyards are Bordeaux varieties, including 25% Cabernet.

Vega Sicilia's commitment to quality is absolute, as evidenced by the highly public decision not to release their 2010 Alion due to issues with excess sediment causing cloudiness in the wine. The financial cost to the winery was said to be around $13 million dollars, but Vega Sicilia had no hesitation in putting their reputation and customer relationships first.

No surprise then that Unico is considered one of the great fine wines of the world, lately arousing interest from the Chinese market too. This 2004 release is a profound and spectacular wine as evidenced by the stunning ratings from e.Robert Parker and Jancis Robinson noted below in the email. I can say from experience, tasting it just a couple of weeks ago with Jeff and Chris from our tasting panel, the wine is a classic, that will provide immense pleasure for those with the foresight and spare cash to cellar some. Unico is a definitive quality equivalent to the Bordeaux 1st Growths yet considerably cheaper at our fine price of $699/bottle, which is why affluent Chinese wine buyers are awakening to its superb value. You pay for Bordeaux while it's early in barrel and wait to receive it as a 2 1/2 year old wine and it comes with a mortgage like price tag. Unico is cellar-aged for 10-years and you pay for it only on release; check out its extraordinary ratings below.

What also struck us in the same tasting was the sheer value offered by Pintia, Alion and Valbuena. All 3 wines offer something unique and different and deliver world class experiences at accessible price points for premium red wine lovers and collectors.


Vega Sicilia Pintia 2010

Vega Sicilia Pintia 2010

"The bouquet is very Bordeaux-like" Neal Martin, eRobertParker.com

95/100 - eRobertParker.com

The Alvarez family from Vega Sicilia bought Pintia in 1996 for its stony terroir with rich clay sub-soils at high altitude (600m ASL). Crafted from 100% Tinta de Toro (Tempranillo) from ungrafted 40-60 year old vines. Fermentation is done in new French Oak before aging for 12 months in 80% new oak (50 French and 30 American).

"The 2010 Pintia had already been bottled when I tasted it, although not released. The bouquet is very Bordeaux-like with black rather than red fruit, fine minerality and touches of graphite and cedar. The palate is medium-bodied with plump, rounded tannins, a firm structure and great precision on the finish. This is what you might call a "classic" Pintia that already demonstrates great breeding and sophistication toward the finish."eRobertParker.com


Vega Sicilia Alion 2011

Vega Sicilia Alion 2011

"An upfront, hedonistic vintage of Vega Sicilia's most upfront and hedonistic wine" Christopher Cannan

94/100 - eRobertParker.com

Alion is Vega Sicilia's holding in Ribera del Duero, planted in 100% Tempranillo Tinto Fino. The philosophy is to make more contemporary wines, exclusively from tinto fino, to act as a counterpoint to the traditional approach of Vega Sicilia. Founded in 1986, it is operated distinctly from Vega Sicilia.

"The 2011 Alion is pure Tempranillo from vineyards averaging 25 to 30 years of age, harvested early (second half of September) matured for 16 months in new Nevers barrels (that's a difference with Vega Sicilia; for Alion all wood is French). It is an exuberant, ripe Alion, with hedonist's aromas that jump out of the glass. Winemaker Javier Ausas tells me he likes the wines when they are young and showy like this one. It is indeed a showy vintage, with aromas of violets, molasses, cereals and a whiff of malt whisky. We tasted the wine a little warm, but that does not benefit the wine, which should be served at 15-16 C and allowed to warm up and open up in the glass. It's also quite smoky, with reminiscences of very good barrels, black aromas, violets, black olives and fresh plums. The palate is tannic with lactic and warm flavors. This is a very exuberant, showy vintage for Alion, and here I tend to agree with Ausas: even though this has plenty of stuffing to age I'd drink it young in its exuberant phase." eRobertParker.com


Vega Sicilia Valbuena 2010

Vega Sicilia Valbuena 2010

"Possibly the best Valbuena ever" eRobertParker.com

96/100 - eRobertParker.com

Aged for 31 months in both casks and barrels, there is yet further bottle age prior to release to guarantee harmony. The vineyard is divided up into small plots, each of which is fermented separately. Many observers see a Burgundian aspect to this wine in terms of its purity and earthy characters.

"Since the 2010 harvest, they ferment plot by plot, and it shows. This Valbuena has almost 100 components in it, smaller lots, all of them corresponding to a plot of vines. It has all the signs of being one of the best vintages ever for this second wine from Vega Sicilia, mostly Tempranillo but with 5% Merlot that matured five months in 20,000-liter oak vats, 18 months in new barriques (equal parts French and American oak), three months in used barrels and then five months in the vats again before being bottled in May 2013. 2010 seems to have the exuberance of the 2011 and the seriousness and elegance of 2009. It has the Burgundian philosophy of terroir, with all plots fermented and aged separately, giving each vineyard what it needs in terms of vinification and elevage resulting in something like 40 separate lots to blend. This wine has gained in precision and sharpness, and is very pure with delineated aromas and flavors. It is a world-class wine, possibly the best Valbuena ever." eRobertParker.com

"Succulent and earthy, with lots of common ground with Burgundy in its fungal, earthy aroma. Long, plush fruit on the palate. Comprehensive structure - gets all of the elements in charming, co-flattering balance. Sophisticated, open, truly delicious." Jancis Robinson MW


Vega Sicilia Unico 2004

Vega Sicilia Unico 2004

Similar in style to the 1994 Unico, winemaker Pablo Alvarez described 2004 as "a textbook vintage"

98/100 - Wine Enthusiast Magazine
19.5/20 - Jancis Robinson MW
97/100 - eRobertParker.com

"Moving on to the big guns, the 2004 Unico is truly spectacular, in line with the 1970 and 1994. It's a blend of 87% Tempranillo and 13% Cabernet Sauvignon. Unico has a unique long aging, in the case of the 2004, 15 months in 20,000-liter vats, 25 month in new barrels, 17 months in used barrels and a further 26 months in the big oak vats. It has complex notes of tobacco, cedar wood and blackberries, and shows very good balance between power and elegance as well as perfect ripeness. It has a similar profile to the 1994, but there's ten years difference in experience and technical knowledge. There is nuance; there is detail, filigree, balance, harmony and complexity…This is approachable now, but it's a shame to drink so soon. It will age for a very long time, as it has the balance and harmony to do so, and it will develop more complexity with time. Drink 2016-2029. But if the single harvest Unico is fantastic, the multi-vintage blend could be even better as it also plays with the benefit of extra aging time." eRobertParker.com

"Dark purplish crimson. Actually this smells more obviously ripe and opulent than the 2005, perhaps because of its seductive and already complex undertow. Beautiful completeness. So beautifully balanced that it is already alluring, even if it refines and dries a bit on the finish. Really stunning - explosive! Mineral finish." Jancis Robinson MW



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