General Information about Vega Sicilia, Alion, Pintia and Aalto
Spain's undisputed equivalent of a Premier Cru is Vega Sicilia. Since the planting of the first grape vines about a century and a half ago, the bodega has gained an enormous reputation. Vega Sicilia is especially renowned for the concentration, longevity and uniqueness of its wines. After the designation of origin in 1982 Vega Sicilia is part of the DO Ribera del Duero.
The estate on the River Duero is a thousand hectares. Two hundred hectares of this have been planted with vines. The majority is tinto fino, the local variation of the tempranillo. But there are also sticks with cabernet sauvignon, malbec, merlot and even albillo, a local white grape variety. The tinto fino and albillo grow in gobelet form, while the Bordeaux varieties are led along guyot along iron wire.
Nine years ago, a small area was also planted with the grape varieties Chardonnay, Viognier, Marsanne and Rousanne. It will be a while before we can see white Vega Sicilia: Vega only wants to release wine from older vines.
The soil in the area is highly calcareous with a sediment of clay and pebbles. There is a typical continental climate with warm days and, even in summer, cold nights. This is due to its location: seven hundred meters above sea level. Therefore, the grapes are only harvested very late in the season and they have a lot of time to form aromas. The harvest is often only brought in mid-November.
The secret of Vega Sicilia lies in a complex of factors:
* quality of the soil
* climate (micro and meso)
* large percentage of very old sticks
* very low yield, eight to twenty hectoliters per hectare, depending on the year
* very long maturation in barrel
* perfectionism in all aspects
This wine is composed of a selection of at least three different top vintages Unico from tinto fino and cabernet sauvignon. This is unique in Spain and possibly even worldwide. The youngest volume is at least ten years old and ripens on wood until assembly and bottling. The Reserva Especial is produced in very small quantities and gets exceptionally high scores in the trade press every time. The grapes of old vines with a particularly high natural concentration allow this exquisite wine to retain its fruit and great complexity and develop length.
Unico is Vega's reference wine. In a good year, about one third of production can consist of Unico. The wood maturation system has remained unchanged since Vega established its reputation. After fermentation, the wine goes into large oak wood casks for a while. The wine is then selected: Will it be Unico or Valbuena? If Unico is chosen, the wine goes for about a year in new French oak barriques. Then it matures in American oak barriques. The duration depends on the year. After that, the wine goes back into large casks. Unico is usually bottled after about six years of wood maturation and after that time it will continue to bottle-age for at least four more years. In exceptional years, the duration of wood maturation can reach up to nine years. Vega only releases Unico in good years. Unico is only produced from grapes of on average 35 year old vines. The blend usually consists of approximately 80% tinto fino and approximately 20% cabernet sauvignon. Sometimes a small percentage of merlot is also used.
Valbuena is usually made from a blend of about 80% tinto fino and 20% merlot and malbec. In a year when no Unico is made, cabernet sauvignon can be added. The sticks are at least twenty years old and the wine is aged for three to four years according to the same recipe as Unico: first foeder, then one year French and American barrique, then back again in wooden foeder and finally another 1 to 2 years in the bottle. Valbuena is only put on the market after five years. Valbuena is a great wine in itself and actually has all the characteristics of the Unico, but with a slightly different composition of grape varieties.
Race, intensity, height
All Vega wines combine concentration with elegance, pairing intensity and variety with complexity and length. Valbuena is a bit more open and easier to understand than the almost esoteric Unico and Reserva Especial. Flavors that often recur in tasting notes are: red fruit - cassis, strawberry, cherry - plum, mint, fig, spice, licorice, mocha, coconut, chocolate and the like. The wines often seem much younger than they really are; in particular the Unico and Reserva Especial.
Aliòn released his first volume in 1994. The bodega was taken over two years earlier. In the meantime, the cellars have been adapted several times, the last time before the 2000 harvest. Then the stainless steel fermentation tanks were replaced by oak barrels and a new, climate-controlled barrier cellar was put into use. Last summer, the company installed an entirely new bottling line.
Aliòn has a different philosophy than Vega Sicilia. In Aliòn, modern wines are made from 100% tinto fino. After fermentation, the wine goes on new French barriques for fourteen to eighteen months. After bottling, Aliòn receives an additional two years of bottle maturation. The style resembles that of a modern made grand cru from Bordeaux and then tinto fino: concentrated, but with a certain elegance and great length.
Tinto de Toro - Pintia
This latest project by the Alvarez family in the emerging area of Toro is already causing quite a stir. Vineyard prices allegedly rose across the area as rumor spread that Vega's owner was selecting the best terroirs. The family bought seventy acres of vineyard in the selected zones. Part of it is planted with old tinto de toro. Although this is a variation of the tempranillo, there are still clear differences: the skin is thicker and the grapes are smaller. This makes the tinto de toro more resistant to the sometimes merciless shining sun and high temperatures during the day.
Alvarez built new cellars in San Roman de Hornija opposite Dos Victorias bodega. The first 2001 harvest immediately got very high with the well-known wine critics. In the USA there has been a run on this wine, which is remarkable for a first vintage!
The Pintia is extremely limited because the wine is only made from grapes from old vines. Production will increase in the future. Pintia is raised for twelve to fourteen months in new oak barrels of which 70% French and 30% American. The wine is characterized by a strong concentration with trays of red and black fruit, supported by a nice spiciness and the vanilla tone of the barriques.