Some of Spain’s most collectible Tempranillo-based reds took center stage Friday at the New York Wine Experience in a six-vintage lineup from Bodegas Vega Sicilia, whose flagship Unico bottling is revered by insiders as among the world’s great reds.
Founded in 1864, Vega Sicilia has served as Ribera del Duero’s benchmark winery for more than 150 years. CEO Pablo Álvarez’s family purchased the winery in 1982, and his commitment to quality has only bolstered the winery’s reputation.
Wine Spectator executive editor Thomas Matthews pointed out that Vega Sicilia recalled its 1994 Valbuena 5.° Reserva after detecting a slightly higher-than-usual number of flawed corks, even though the wine earned 94 points. And last year Álvarez chose not to release the 2010 Alion over concerns about excessive sediment. “Sometimes it is necessary to make sacrifices,” Álvarez responded, “and to make sure that [mistakes] never happen again.”
Matthews described Álvarez as “a gentleman whose modest demeanor masks an iron will, who has mastered every detail of the estate that he has run for 30 years, and who would much rather let his wines speak for him than stand in front of a crowd and be the center of attention.”
Álvarez led off the tasting with a red from Bodegas y Viñedos Alion, which the company debuted with the 1991 vintage. The 2012 Ribera del Duero (not yet rated) is 100 percent Tempranillo and aged entirely in new French oak. Matthews called the 2012 Alion “a modern expression of Ribera, with more fresh fruit and more structure, in an international style.”
A more classical example from Ribera del Duero followed, the Bodegas Vega Sicilia Valbuena 5.° Reserva 2010 (89 points, $190), a blend of 90 percent Tempranillo and 10 percent Merlot aged in both American and French oak. “The American oak influence comes through in a baking spice note more than the smoky note of the French oak,” Matthews commented.
Vega Sicilia typically holds its Unico bottling 10 years before release, but this year Álvarez released the 2007 vintage, which he feels is drinkable now, while the 2006 and 2005 vintages still need more time. The Bodegas Vega Sicilia Ribera del Duero Unico 2007 (94 points, $450) is “elegant, supple, complex, more refined than the Valbuena,” said Matthews.
The Unico Gran Reserva 2002 (93 points, $410) comes from a vintage that was “very good, but very short: We only made 40,000 bottles” of it, Álvarez said. “I love the texture—velvety softness that is so generous, but with enough firmness to keep it going,” Matthews praised. “Leather, underbrush and forest floor take it out of the fruit realm and into another dimension.”
Moving on to a wine nearly 20 years old, Álvarez said 1996 excelled across the board. “The weather was fantastic. The harvest was fantastic. Fantastic vintage… .” He expects that the Unico Gran Reserva 1996 (93 points, $350 on release, $486 current auction price) can age for 40 more years.
Finally, the crowd was treated to the oldest vintage-dated wine served at the seminars, the Unico Gran Reserva 1981 (93 points, $150 on release, $583 current auction price), a blend of 65 percent Tempranillo with Cabernet, Merlot and Malbec. Matthews described it as “very elegant, so harmonious, everything is resolved, nothing sticks out ... supple and long.”
“You clearly have a jewel of a property, and you have worked hard to maintain it and defend its quality and reputation, even at great cost, and we can see the results in the glass,” Matthews told Álvarez in closing. “Your passion and commitment and determination to do well delivers excellence.”
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