Vega Sicilia is considered by many to be Spain’s most prestigious wine estate. It is located in Ribera del Duero, east of Valladolid. The estate covers around 1,000 hectares, of which 230 – 250 are under vines. Founded in 1864 by Don Eloy Lecanda y Chaves, who arrived from Bordeaux with cuttings of local clones of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec, he had planted planted them together with Spain’s indigenous grape Tinto Fino (a clone of Tempranillo) in the arid Ribera soils.
Just as people are refreshed in the cooler altitude, so the grapes retain freshness and elegance. Indeed the vines here flower later than Burgundy or Champagne and there is a real danger of frost before the harvest. The climate is noticeably clear and dry, which means that the sun aids ripening through both reliable heat and luminosity. The wines here have an acidity that cleanses the palate and marries particularly well with rich western or eastern food.
The winery began building its formidable reputation after 1903 under the ownership of Antonio Herrero, winning a number of awards, and having blessed with successful distribution around the world. The Alvarez family purchased the estate in 1982, the same year that the DO of Ribera del Duero was created, and today Pablo Alvarez tirelessly represents the estate around the world.
The estate produces three wines, Unico, Reserva Especial and Valbuena. Unico is the vintage wine released at 10 years old, Valbuena is also vintage, released at 5 years old, and the Reserva Especial is a blend of at least three vintages. This multi-vintage blending has long been practised at the bodega, and is very much a house style.
Valbuena receives 3 years ageing in wood before being bottled, and is aged for a further 2 years before release. Normally around 80% Tempranillo, 20% Malbec and Merlot, it is a fleshy, spicy, wine of great lift and freshness. Unico receives a total of 7 years ageing before bottling, and 3 years further maturation before release. The composition of Unico varies enormously, but as a rule is around 80% Tempranillo and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. About 10% of Unico is retained each year to be blended into a Reserva Especial.