A Red Wine for the Centuries: Spain’s Vega Sicilia

It is one of the world’s mythical vinous creations. This red wine represented and revolutionized Spain’s Ribera del Duero appellation long before it became known for other highly esteemed wines like Pingus. This is a referential luxury wine (for which now you can order wine delivery).

Created anew after every harvest for well over 100 years, Vega Sicilia is expensive, scarce, timeless, and handmade. Kings, presidents, and the powerful have favorited it, not only for its complexity and longevity, but also the mystery surrounding it. Since 1982, Vega Sicilia has belonged to the Álvarez family, now part of a collection of wineries known as Tempos Vega Sicilia, which includes Pintia, Tokaj-Aremus, and Alion, among others.

Vega Sicilia is both a wine and a legend. Many know of this wine, but few have tried it, though times have changed and today it’s so easy to buy wine online, even outside of Spain. It transcends everyday wine drinking. Like many luxury products, it provides experiences and assigns status. It combines tradition and craftsmanship but also a pronounced history of innovation. It is desirable, scarce, expensive, global and timeless; and its birth and elaboration are wrapped in an atmosphere of mystery. It is not easy to get it. If you do not belong to the club of their 3,500 chosen ones (those who have a quota, of which 20% are stores), you have to join the waiting list.

What Makes Vega Sicilia Red Wine So Special?

Its aging ability is legendary. A bottle uncorked after five decades in a good cellar is in better shape than when it was made. Many say that Vega Sicilia is a safer investment than treasury bonds. This red wine is always made with special care and using the highest criteria. In a year with a bad harvest (a couple of times every decade in the past), it does not go to market.

The winemaker has said, “Something strange happens with Vega Sicilia that’s impossible for me to explain. There is the vineyard, the land, the tradition, but it is not only that. It is a wine that has a soul.”

Vega Sicilia is mythical, although its owners have never invested in advertising, are suspicious of marketing, and never (ever) give away a bottle. The vineyard has survived wars, plagues, oblivion, and speculation. Vega Sicilia innovated Spanish winemaking in the 19th century, always with a sophisticated blend of native (mostly Tempranillo) and French grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon. Eloy Lecanda, its first owner, imported grapes from Bordeaux in 1864 to grow in Ribera del Duero. At times, Vega Sicilia almost went under. Between the 1950s and 1980s, it had to demonstrate its profitability against barley, potatoes, beets and corn, which threatened to take over its agricultural space due to government policies. It changed owners three times in those years.

Few know how to decipher the magic that hides inside this red wine, considered one of the ten best on the planet. The factors that go into making Vega Sicilia include the vineyard, the land, the altitude, the harsh climate; 800 years of wine tradition in this area of ​​Castile descending from the monks of Nuestra Señora de Valbuena; clonal selection; investment of tens of millions of euros; different generations of workers from the same families in the same jobs... but it's not just that. It is a wine that is alive and has a soul.

The result is that this red wine plays in the world luxury league; its vintages continue to have triple the demand each season than available supply.

As the owner said in an interview in the Spanish press a few years ago: “I confess that I do not like marketing. It seems to me the art of deceiving the consumer. I have never done it; I have never dealt with that. For over 30 years I have focused on quality. I have lived here, alone, far from everything, and I have struggled to make it better and better. And Vega Sicilia is better than ever. It hasn't changed, but it has evolved. I limit myself to transmitting what we do. I'm not inventing anything."

He goes onto say that the secret to a great wine is “a great vineyard. Great wine is made in the vineyard, not in the cellar.”

Vega Sicilia stopped using chemical herbicides and fertilizers more than 30 years ago. They have classified the vineyard soil, pursued genetic investigation and selection with the grape vines, and divided the vineyard into 54 plots, which makes choice and blending a matter of precision. Besides blending Tempranillo with French grape varieties, innovation at Vega Sicilia has included organic farming and, in the 1980s, rejecting the high-yield clones of the Tempranillo grape that were impoverishing and standardizing the Spanish vineyard. Vega Sicilia stuck  with their own centuries-old plant material. This includes the Hontañón block, one of the oldest in Vega Sicilia, planted in 1910, and which today acts as a gene bank.

If you want to order wine delivery and try the mythical Vega Sicilia, Bottle Barn has the 2014 Vega Sicilia Valbuena 5º Año Ribera del Duero, which earned 96 points from Wine Advocate. 2014 was good year in Ribera, with cooler conditions allowing the production of balanced wines like the Valbuena.

Did you enjoy learning about Vega Sicilia? Bottle Barn has lots of other informative articles about wine, including What is a Cremant wine? Try Some New Bubbles! —take a look!

By Charlie Leary

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