Wine Experience attendees got a rare treat from Spain when Pablo Álvarez, director general of Bodegas Vega Sicilia, poured the 1994 vintage of its flagship wine, Unico Gran Reserva (96 points, $350 on release). One of Spain’s few collectibles with a track record at auction (current price $518), the wine is released only after aging for at least 10 years.
Álvarez joked that he is often asked, “Which part of Italy is the wine from?” The question shows that Vega Sicilia is still a hidden gem, but interestingly, it points to an important aspect of the winery's history. When it was founded in 1864 in one of Spain’s now most-lauded wine regions, the Ribera del Duero, Vega Sicilia was the first to combine the indigenous Tempranillo grape with France’s Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. More than a century later, estates in Italy’s Tuscany region would gain fame for their blends of indigenous Sangiovese with Cabernet and Merlot, illustrating that Vega Sicilia was quite a bit ahead of the trend.
This foresight assured Vega Sicilia’s place as one of Spain's top wineries, but the attention to detail lavished on its two wines, Valbuena and Unico, which is only produced in top vintages, helps it hold on to that spot. Álvarez attributes their success to the complex, chalk-dominated soils on which the estate's almost 350 acres of vines are grown, and to the dramatic climate of Ribera del Duero, where late May frosts yield to intense heat during the short and sweet growing period.
The 1994, which is 90 percent Tempranillo, showed beautifully; still vibrant, and with elegant balance, it’s a testament to the power and ripeness that characterized the 1994 vintage, which Álvarez labeled “one of the greatest vintages of the '90s.”