Curious to know all about Vega Sicilia wine before you buy it?
To the uninitiated, Vega Sicilia may sound like a Sicilian wine. But it has nothing to do with Sicily, or Italy for that matter!
Based in Spain, this iconic wine estate produces some of the most prized Spanish wines - each underscored by an enduring legacy of winemaking traditions.
What makes Vega Sicilia wines so unique and highly-valued? Which are the best bottles to buy in 2020?
In this article, we’ll dive into the winery’s roots, vineyards, the best wines of Vega Sicilia, and the easiest way to buy them.
This Article Contains
(Click on a link below to jump to a specific section)
- All About Tempos Vega Sicilia
- Vega Sicilia Wineries
- Vega Sicilia Vineyards
- Some Interesting Facts about Vega Sicilia
- The Best Wines of Vega Sicilia
- Unico - 2006 Vega Sicilia Unico Gran Reserva
- Unico Reserva Especial - Vega Sicilia Unico Reserva Especial
- Valbuena 5o - 2013 Vega Sicilia Tinto Valbuena 5o
- Alión - 2015 Vega Sicilia Alión
- Pintia - 2014 Vega Sicilia 'Pintia'
- Macán - 2009 Bodegas Benjamin de Rothschild - Vega Sicilia 'Macán'
- Oremus-Tokaj - 2005 Oremus Eszencia
All About Tempos Vega Sicilia
Tempos Vega Sicilia (commonly referred to as Vega Sicilia) is a bodega or Spanish winery located in Valbuena de Duero in the province of Valladolid in Northern Spain.
The estate lies within the Ribera del Duero region, an appellation under the Spanish Denominación de Origen Protegida (DOP).
Ribera del Duero is one of the several wine regions that flank the Duero river, and it has developed rapidly since it achieved DOP status in 1982.
The name Vega Sicilia has appeared in Spanish documents well before the bodega was founded. No one knows its exact origin, other than that Vega is in reference to the greenery along the Duero riverbanks and that Sicilia is a nod to Saint Cecilia, patron saint of musicians.
Vega Sicilia has had its fair share of ups and downs, from its inception to current day acclaim.
Here’s a brief look at the winery’s beginnings.
A Brief History of the Vega Sicilia Winery
The Vega Sicilia estate was founded in 1864 by Don Eloy Lecanda y Chaves, a Spanish winemaker trained in Bordeaux, France.
Returning to Spain, he brought with him vine cuttings of traditional Bordeaux varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Malbec, planting them alongside an indigenous variety - the Tinto Fino or Tempranillo.
Vega Sicilia had a succession of owners after Lecanda until it came under the ownership of the Herrero family in 1915. It was in this period that renowned winemaker, Domingo Garramiola Txomin, crafted the first Unico in Vega Sicilia’s winery.
Garramiola also created the estate’s second wine, Valbuena, and pioneered Vega Sicilia’s signature winemaking technique of long barrel-aging.
When the 1917 and 1918 Unico vintages won prizes at the 1928 World’s Fair in Barcelona, the estate’s renown soared.
Very soon, Vega Sicilia’s growing fame earned it a reputation as one of the most eminent wineries in Northern Spain.
But it wasn’t until 1982, when the Alvarez family acquired Vega Sicilia, that it began to forge a global reputation. Pablo Alvarez instituted the estate’s meticulous approach to winemaking, which is the key to the success of its wines.
Now let’s look at the wineries and vineyards of this iconic estate.
Vega Sicilia Wineries
Vega Sicilia has five wineries under its umbrella:
- Bodegas Vega Sicilia is the original estate founded in 1864.
- The Bodegas y Viñedos Alión winery began in 1991 and aims to produce a more modern wine style.
- The Tokaj-Oremus Kft winery in Hungary is owned by Vega Sicilia. It was founded in 1993 and makes the Furmint wines of Hungary.
- Bodegas y Viñedos Pintia was established in 2001 in Toro, on the other bank of the Duero River. The winery lies on the borders of Valladolid with Zamora, located about 100km away from Vega Sicilia.
- Benjamin de Rothschild & Vega Sicilia is a joint winery project initiated in 2013 between the two great wine families, Rothschild and Alvarez. The result is the superb Macán, a Rioja red wine.
Vega Sicilia Vineyards
Vega Sicilia’s vineyards keep their yields low through green harvesting and meticulous grape selection.
What is green harvesting?
This is the process where unripe clusters of grapes are removed to allow remaining clusters to fully ripen. This results in a high-quality harvest.
The vineyards are located in the following Spanish and Hungarian wine regions.
A. Vega Sicilia and Alión
The Vega Sicilia estate and Alión habitat are both located within the Spanish Ribera del Duero region.
Vega Sicilia covers almost 1000 hectares of land with 210 hectares under vine, some of which are over 100 years old. The grape varieties grown here are Tempranillo (Tinto Fino) with Bordeaux varieties Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, which goes into the production of the Unico, Valbuena, and Alion wine labels.
Meanwhile, the 130 hectares of land in the Alión habitat cultivates Tempranillo grapes.
The Pintia vineyard is located within the Toro region, with 96 hectares under vines that are of an average age of 35 years. The grape variety grown is Tinta de Toro (as Tempranillo is known here).
Nearly half of the Oremus vineyard in Tokaj, Hungary cultivates the Furmint grape for the production of Mandolás dry white wine and Tokaj’s famous dessert wines.
The rest of the estate is dedicated to Hárslevelű, Sárgamuskotály, Zéta, Kövérszőlő and Gohér grapes.
Let’s make this even more interesting!
Some Interesting Facts about Vega Sicilia
Here are some fascinating tidbits about this venerated producer.
1. No chemical fertilizers or herbicides
Vega Sicilia does not use any chemical fertilizers or herbicides. Only biodegradable products that cannot be absorbed by the vine or soil are employed. These sustainable viticultural practices ensure that the vines are healthy and the soil fertile.
2. Perfectionist winemakers
Vega Sicilia doesn’t make Unico with unsatisfactory harvests, so Unico may not have a vintage each year. It’s this commitment to quality that many believe has kept Ribera del Duero as one of the world’s finest wine regions.
3. Their own cork trees
Faulty corks were discovered in some Vega Sicilia wines, which made them recall the entire production of the 1994 Valbuena 5° Reserva. The company lost $3 million, and to prevent this from reoccurring, Pablo Alvarez had 50,000 cork trees planted on Vega Sicilia property.
4. Counterfeit wines
A counterfeit ring was discovered by Spain’s Civil Guard in 2018, which was producing replica bottlings of high-end collectible wines, including Vega Sicilia’s. Cheap, relabeled versions of upscale wines were sold at much higher prices, some at up to 10 times their real worth.
5. Caught in a few scandals
For many years, David Alvarez, the family patriarch, and five of his seven children wrangled over control of Vega Sicilia and other holdings. After nearly 10 years of the feud, David’s children emerged victorious. It was such a dramatic feud that the Spanish press named it after the soap opera “Falcon Crest.”
6. Art on the magnums
Vega Sicilia likes to decorate the labels of its grand vin with art, in the footsteps of Bordeaux’s distinguished first growth Mouton Rothschild. But only their Unico magnums get this special treatment.
The Best Wines of Vega Sicilia
Vega Sicilia is a winemaker that is in no hurry to release its wines. They’re known to age their wines for years in the barrel or bottle and to hold on to their inventory until a suitable release time.
In 1991, for example, they released both the 1968 and 1982 vintages, which had been aging 23 years and 9 years, respectively.
Let’s look at their wines.
A. Primary wines
Vega Sicilia produces three primary cuvées:
Vega Sicilia’s legendary wine - Unico Gran Reserva - is one of the most expensive and investment-worthy wines in Spain.
This cuvée comprises approximately 80% Tempranillo with the balance typically of Bordeaux varietal Cabernet Sauvignon. Only the best harvests are used for Unico, and in poor vintages, Unico may not be produced at all.
Fermentation takes place in wooden tanks. After malolactic fermentation, the Unico wine goes through one of the world's longest red wine aging periods — about 10 years between the barrel and bottle — before it’s even considered for release.
Take, for example, the 1964 vintage that was released in 1976 at 2,700 Spanish pesetas. That’s equivalent to about $19 today. The average price of 1964 Unico in 2020 is over $800, which is more than 40 times its initial value!
Even the more recent vintages appreciate well. The 2006 Unico was released at £2,340 per dozen in December 2017— that comes to $256 per bottle. The average value of this vintage in 2020, just three years later, is almost double at over $400.
A Unico you can consider collecting:
Vega Sicilia Unico Gran Reserva 2006, Ribera del Duero (Spain)
The 2006 vintage of this flagship wine has complex bouquets of raisin, dust, and flower aromas that require extended airing to fully reveal itself. Raisin and earthy berry flavors finish with prune and berry notes.
Average price for Vega Sicilia Unico Gran Reserva 2006: $400+
2. Unico Reserva Especial
The Reserva Especial is a non-vintage assemblage of different Unicos, aged at least 10 years. The vintages used in the blend can be more than 30 years apart. They are also regularly derived from vines that are over 40 years old.
Older Reserva Especial releases are a little challenging to collect because neither the release year nor the vintage years are indicated. Between 1981-2000, only the release year is noted on the label. Since 1991, the labels also show which vintages are in the blend.
Here’s one of the rare Reserva Especials:
Vega Sicilia Unico Reserva Especial, Ribera del Duero (Spain)
The Reserva Especial is an opulent, textured wine. The 2010 release comes with juicy, black, and blue fruits with notes of truffle, warm cigar wrapper, and crushed river rocks. On the palate, its sweet inner perfume is balanced with herbs and savory minerals.
Average price for Vega Sicilia Unico Reserva Especial: $400+
3. Valbuena 5°
The Vega Sicilia Valbuena is made from younger vines, aged for five years in American oak before release.
This wine is made with Tempranillo grapes blended with Bordeaux varietals Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. It has flavors of ripe red fruit.
The 5° on the name indicates the five years of aging. Up to 1998, there was also a Valbuena 3° (indicates three years aging), but it has been taken off the market.
A Valbuena for your cellar:
Vega Sicilia Tinto Valbuena 5° 2013, Ribera del Duero (Spain)
The 2013 Valbuena 5o offers the exotic aroma of blueberries with Middle Eastern spice notes. The palate is pulpy with the oaky flavor of stewed plum and beef bouillon. Oxidized notes mark the finish, suggesting that this should be drunk sooner than later.
Average price for Vega Sicilia Tinto Valbuena 5° 2013: $100+
B. Other wines
These newer wines were created from the 1990s onwards.
The Alión wines offer a more modern expression of Tempranillo compared to classic Unico. Alion wines are aged in new French oak Bordeaux barrels for 14-20 months, and then spend at least another 15 months in the bottle. Upon release, these wines can age further for 15-20 years.
A new Vega Sicilia Spanish wine style:
Vega Sicilia Alión 2015, Ribera del Duero (Spain)
The aroma of violet, plum, and dark berry switch between fruity and floral in this 2015 Alion. Flavors of baked blackberry and black-tea end on a short finish, with scrubbing tannin in the mouth and minty oak notes.
Average price for Vega Sicilia Alión 2015: $100+
Pintia wines explore expressions of the local Tempranillo grape known as Tinta de Toro. Aging happens in French and American oak barrels for 12 months, before they’re rested in the bottle until ready for drinking. Pintia can age for another 10 years after release.
A taste of Toro:
Vega Sicilia 'Pintia' 2014, Toro (Spain)
This 2014 Pintia has a highly intense color and depth, with cherry red tones. The nose delivers a brambly, leathery black fruit aroma and smoky oak. The palate is chalky, tasting dark and toasty with spicy berries and cassis.
Average price for Vega Sicilia 'Pintia' 2014: $70+
The Macán and Macán Clásico, produced from grapes of the Rioja region, are the results of the joint venture between the Rothchild and Alvarez families. These wines are also 100% Tempranillo.
These Rioja wines are aged in fine grain French oak barrels for about 12-15 months and then spend a substantial time in the bottle before release.
The Macán wines have a potential of about 15 years (sometimes more) of further aging upon release.
Don’t miss out on this Rioja fine wine:
Bodegas Benjamin de Rothschild - Vega Sicilia 'Macan' 2009, Rioja DOCa (Spain)
This 2009 Rioja red is an earthy, heavyset wine, reflecting a hot vintage. Ripe and chewy on the palate, it shows notes of robust dark chocolate, with a mix of oak, tobacco, black cherry and plum flavors. This wine from Benjamin de Rothschild and Vega Sicilia is ripe, broad, and full of complexity.
Average price for Bodegas Benjamin de Rothschild - Vega Sicilia 'Macan' 2009: $100+
7. Oremus-Tokaj wines
Vega Sicilia produces four wines from their Tokaj terroir in Hungary.
Oremus Vendimia Tardía, Aszú and Eszencia are sweet dessert wines traditionally associated with Hungary. These are a blend of Furmint with Hárslevelű, Sárgamuskotály, Zéta and Kövérszőlő grape varieties.
They also make the Oremus Mandolás, a single dry white wine from Furmint grapes.
A sweet Oremus to surprise your tastebuds:
Oremus Eszencia 2005, Tokaj-Hegyalja (Hungary)
This amber-colored Tokaji offers ethereal aromas of beeswax, raw honey, freshly baked tarte Tatin, canned apricot, and fresh pear. The acidity is beautifully balanced, so its velvety richness can be appreciated without cloying sweetness.
Average price for Oremus Eszencia 2005: $500+
Vega Sicilia wines are highly sought-after, age-worthy - but they aren’t easy to find!
You could search online wine portals or try your luck at wine auctions for the best vintages.
But you’d still run the risk of counterfeit bottles, have to compare different prices, and concern yourself with storage and delivery.
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Fine Craftsmanship meets Global Acclaim in a Vega Sicilia!
Vega Sicilia’s vintage Unico and other wines are some of the most coveted wines in the world. That’s unsurprising, considering the perfectionism of their winemakers and the estate’s adherence to the highest standards.
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