Vega Sicilia: Behind the Scenes of this Spanish Winery

Spanish Winery Vega Sicilia © Vega Sicilia

The Álvarez family celebrates 40 years of owning Tempos Vega Sicilia, one of the most prestigious wineries in Spain. Over the years, the winery holdings have grown, yet they still produce some of the top wines in Spain and the world.

It all started in 1982 when David Álvarez purchased the estate. Tempos Vega Sicilia is a Spanish winery located in Valbuena de Duero in the province of Valladolid in Northern Spain. The estate lies in the Ribera del Duero region.

Pablo Álvarez

Pablo Álvarez took over as general manager in 1985 and since 1990 has been the CEO. Under his management, Vega Sicilia has become a world-renowned winery covering many regions of Spain and developed a winery in Hungary. During these 40 years, Pablo helped create four wineries, Alion in 1991, Oremus in 1993, Pintia in 2001, and Bodegas Benjamin De Rothschild-Vega Sicilia in 2009. The latter helped expand the Alvarez family’s international presence.

Under Pablo’s stewardship, Vega Sicilia implemented a plan to improve and recover vines initially planted in the mid-19th century by Eloy Lecanda. He also banned herbicides and chemical fertilizers, intending to become fully organic in farming in the future.

Pablo Alvarez General Manager Vega Sicilia © Cori Solomon
Pablo Álvarez, CEO Vega Sicilia

Soils, Vines, And Barrels

Vega Sicilia grows 24 different clones of Tempranillo on 16 types of soils. The estate consists of 1000 hectares of land with vines planted on 210 hectares. The wineries use both French and American oak but what is most interesting is the barrels are constructed on-premise at their cooperage. American oak is shipped from the United States to the winery, and the barrels are conceived on-premise.

Vega Sicilia 40th Anniversary

Today, as their 40th-anniversary approaches, Vega Sicilia announces a newly created winery in the Rias Baixas region of Galicia, an area known for its white wines made from the Albarino grape. This new winery will enable the family to realize its dream of making great Spanish white wine. The goal is to produce two white wines; Deiva, a wine with two years of aging, and Amela, a wine with three years of aging. The first wine will hit the market in 2025.

Celebrating 40 Years – The Challenge

Getting international notoriety with Spanish wines has not been easy. In the 80s and 90s Spanish wines were not well known outside of Spain. Looking back to the 1980s, Vega Sicilia exported wine to five countries. By 2015 exportation increased to 80 countries, while today, they ship to 150 countries. Today export makes up 70% of production. The outcome of this increase is more and more people are discovering the outstanding high-quality wines Vega Sicilia produces.

Oremus Winery in Hungary © Vega Sicilia
Oremus Winery in Hungary. Photo Courtesy of Vega Sicilia

Vega Sicilia Wineries

Over 40 years, the estate has expanded to include five wineries, each offering a different outlook on either Spanish or Hungarian wine, yet all merit honor for their outstanding quality and character.

Alión

In 1986 Vega Sicilia acquired Alión with the intention of producing wines with a modern take on the classical approach of their wines. The first release was in 1991 and marked a change in winemaking for the Ribera del Duero region.

Alión Vineyard © Vega Sicilia
Alión Vineyard. Photo Courtesy of Vega Sicilia

Oremus Hungarian Wine

In 1991 Hungary was seeking ventures to privatize its wineries in Tokaj. Pablo saw this as an opportunity to expand Vega Sicilia’s international presence. After two years, they reached an agreement. Today the Oremus winery has 120 hectares of vineyards, all classified as Grand Cru. This winery officially opened in 1999. Pablo came up with the concept to make a dry white Tokaj wine along with the sweet version. Mandolás was the first dry Furmint from Tokaj, and today most Tokaj wineries produce a dry version. With Pablo’s vision, the Tokaj and Hungarian wine markets excelled.

Oremus Cellar © Vega Sicilia
Oremus Cellar

Pintia

Pintia was established in 2001. The goal with Pintia offering wines from the historical region of Toro, known for producing full-bodied wines, was to create that stand out in terms of elegance, structure, and refinement.

Bodegas Benjamin De Rothschild-Vega Sicilia

Wanting a presence in La Rioja, coming together with Benjamin and Ariane De Rothschild, where each family owned 50% of the winery, started quietly. The winery finally came to fruition in 2013 with two wines produced from the northern area of La Rioja. The two wines are Macán and Macán Clásico. After 13 years of acquiring property, the property now holds 100 hectares of 30-year-old vineyards.

Macán Vineyards © Vega Sicilia
Macán Vineyards. Photo Courtesy of Vega Sicilia

Tasting Vega Sicilia Wines

Recently, I was afforded the opportunity to enjoy a luncheon at Tesse in West Hollywood hosted by Mike Miller, Golden State Wine Co., and featuring the wines of Vega Sicilia, with Pablo Álvarez officiating the tasting.

Vega Sicilia Spanish Wines © Cori Solomon
Vega Sicilia Spanish Wines

Oremus Mandolás

Hors D’Oeuvres were accompanied by the 2019 Furmint, Dry Mandulas, Oremus. I found this Furmint very balanced with subtle nuances of citrus, making it a very refreshing wine.

Oremus Mandolas Furmint © Cori Solomon
Oremus Mandolas Furmint

Macán

Pork Secreto, carrot purée, Brown butter, and boudin noir paired beautifully with the 2018 Macan Clasico and the 2017 Macan from Bodegas Benjamin De Rothschild – Vega Sicilia. This Tempranillo ages in extra-fine and fine grain French wood, with the majority in new barrels and the rest in one-year-old barrels for 15 months. I found both wines superb, with depth and structure, but 2017 was more concentrated.

Macán Clasico © Cori Solomon
Macán Clasico

Pintia, Alión and Valbuena

Duck Magret with creamy polenta, fresh herbs, and duck jus paired with 2017 Pintia, 2018 Alion, and 2017 Valbuena.

The Pintia was bright and fresh, consisting of 100% Tinta de Toro. The wine was elegant yet had a rustic quality. The wine ages ten months in French and American oak followed by three years in bottle.

Alion reflects a modern style of wine from Ribera Del Duro. It consists of 100% Tinta Fino that ages 12 – 14 months in new French oak and concrete followed by two years in bottle. I found an elegantly balanced and integrated wine.

Valbuena delivered another fresh, bright wine comprised of Tinto Fino and a small amount of Merlot and ages French and American wood, new and used 225-liter barrels, and 20,000-liter vats.

Unico

Filet Mignon, Pommes darphin, and beef jus enhanced my favorite wines of the day, the 2009 and 2012 Unico.

Unico is the iconic flagship wine of Vega Sicilia. One must understand the terroir to appreciate this wine. The grapes grow on plots located between slopes and an area of wasteland and the alluvial plains. The soil nearest the surface is composed of fine colluvial deposits from the hillside and small fragments of limestone. Quartz gravel exists lays beneath the main sandy soil. There are many angular limestone boulders on the surface.

Unico is one of the longest aging wines, about ten years between oak and bottle. During different stages of the process, the wine ages in various types of barrels: American and French oak new and used 225-liter barrels and 20,000-litre vats. Each batch determines the type of oak and the time spent in each container. Typically, the wine spends six years in oak and four years in bottle.

In 2009, the wine blends Tinto Fino with a small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon. In 2012, the percentage of Tinto Fino was slightly larger than in 2009, and the Cabernet Sauvignon portion was smaller.

The 2012 vintage was fresher, more concentrated with a silky finish, whereas 2009 was more expressive, complex, and richer.

Vega Sicilia Unico © Cori Solomon
Vega Sicilia Unico

Oremus Aszú 5

Aszú means wine of tears and is not produced every year. It requires berries infected with Botrytis. The must is placed in a Gönc barrel, that is 136-litres, 3, 5, or 6 23-kg panniers known as a puttony in Hungarian. In this case, five baskets, puttonyos containing 25 KG of grapes, are added to the base must. These wines aged in 136-litre Gönc and 220-litre Szerednye small barrels. The oak for these barrels comes from the mountains that border the region. The Aszú aging occurs in underground wineries dugout in the volcanic soil, aging for 2 to 3 years, followed by one year in bottle.

I found a rich golden wine with flavors of apricot and honey.

Glass of Oremus Aszú © Cori Solomon
A glass of Oremus Aszú

Conclusion

Considered one of the top wineries in Spain, Vega Sicilia is a winery not to miss. Each wine in their portfolio is consistent and represents the highest quality and perfection in the winemaking process. The piece de resistance is sampling the Unico. I would call it a bucket list wine and a must for the real wine connoisseur.

Note: Common to the wine industry, this writer attended a hosted wine tasting luncheon with Vega Sicilia and Golden State Wine Co. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure.

Featured photo Courtesy of Vega Sicilia