Vega Sicilia Unico
Ribera del Duero
Marta Álvarez Mezquíriz
Annual Production (Grand Vin)
At the end of the estate, where it borders on the River Duero, by plantations of oaks, cork and walnut trees that in future will provide the raw material for the corks and barrels that the coming generations will produce.
The name Vega Sicilia is something of a historical mystery, appearing in Spanish documents centuries before the winery was founded in 1864. The exact origin of the name is unknown, and despite similarities in the name, Vega Sicilia is not related to the island of Sicily or the Italian wines of that region. Instead, ‘Vega’ refers to the lush green vegetation that grows alongside the riverbank of the Duero in the north of Spain, where the estate is located, and ‘Sicilia’ refers to Saint Cecilia, the patron saint of music.
The name was chosen by Don Eloy Lecanda y Chaves, when he founded the winery in 1864. A Spanish winemaker, Don Eloy Lecanda trained in Bordeaux and upon returning to his homeland of Castile brought with him several Bordeaux grape varieties. His first vineyards included Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Tempranillo and Malbec – quite unusual for Ribero del Duero at the time. Nowadays, around 40% of the vineyards are planted with traditional Bordeaux varieties.
Lecanda swiftly fortified the reputation of Vega Sicilia, and by 1876 the estate was supplying the Spanish royal family. Then taken over by winemaker Domingo Garramiola Txomin, the estate enjoyed further acclaim after its wines won awards at the 1929 World Fair in Barcelona.
After passing through the hands of several others (and winning a number of further awards in the process), the estate was eventually purchased by the Alvarez family in 1982, the same year Ribera del Duero was granted Denominación de Origen (DO) status. Since then, the winery has undergone extensive renovations and modernisations, and the Vega Sicilia name has joined the prestigious Primum Familiae Vini, an exclusive association of the 12 best wine-producing families from around the world.
Today, Vega Sicilia wines are recognised as some of the finest and most valued red wines on the market.
Vega Sicilia is well-known for its patience in winemaking. Its Grand Vin, Unico, is aged for at least ten years before release, but it’s not uncommon for the estate to sit on a vintage until it’s content is the best it can be. It wasn’t until 1991, for example, that the winery released the 1968 vintage, after 23 years of aging.
It’s no surprise then that Vega Sicilia’s wines consistently receive strong reviews, with the last five vintages of Unico receiving an average 96.4 score from Robert Parker. The 2006 vintage, at 98 points, was particularly well received exactly 10 years on from the last awarded 98 pointer. Vin is often short (less so for the Valbuena 5˚ but certainly more so for the Especial, where its uniqueness of blending makes it a rarity in the wine world). Indeed, less than 100,000 bottles are produced annually, with the vast majority of stock only available on an allocation basis to a 5,000-long waiting list.
But Unico is the only Spanish wine in the Liv-ex 1000 index, and falls into the ‘Rest of the World 50’. Unsurprisingly, interest in Vega Sicilia has an established global following, particularly among the Asian market, and the majority of the estate’s lots achieve prices far beyond their high estimates at auction, representing significant potential returns. The Unico 1985 vintage, for example, experienced 100% growth over the last 4 years.
Vega Sicilia’s flagship wine, Unico is usually released after 10 years but in some cases bottles will be cellared for up to 15 years or more. Taken from the oldest vines in Ribero del Duero, the wine comprises around 80% Tempranillo and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and despite its age offers a liveliness balanced by good acidity and sweetness from a carefully-monitored alcohol content.
Composed of Tempranillo, Merlot and just a hint of Cabernet Sauvignon, Valbuena 5°is, as the name would suggest, released after just five years, and offers a fruiter, less structured flavour than its older brother Unico. While generally made from younger vines, in years when Unico is not produced grapes originally destined for the Grand Vin will go into Valbuena instead.
A non-vintage blend of different Unico vintages, the Reserva Especial is aged for at least 10 years, and can include grapes from vintages harvested more than 30 years apart. This, coupled with consistently good critic scores, means it’s usually only available to private customers under strict allocation.