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From myth to thing of beauty
THE story of the renowned wine estate of Bodegas Vega Sicilia on the plateau Ribera del Duero sounds like a fairy tale with a fairy godmother - or in this case, a fairy godfather - who came along, restored the estate and gave it a proper place on the wine world's centre stage.
The estate dates back to 1859, when Eloy Lecanda Chaves's rich father gave him an estate, which included Vega Sicilia and Carrascal at Valbuena in Ribera del Duero. He was a great admirer of Bordeaux wines, so in 1864, he went to Bordeaux and bought 18,000 vine shoots of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Carmanere and Pinot Noir. The last two did not survive, but the others have flourished, giving the Bordeaux basis to the current Vega Sicilia Unico and Valbuena.
But under Mr Chaves, the wine was a mythical one - it was known about, but neither seen nor sold; it was kept only for the enjoyment of the owner and his close friends.
It was not until 1890 that Antonio Herrero Vazquez bought the estate and made the wine known as Vega Sicilia.
The bodega was bought by David Alvarez in 1982, who told us that in that year, a visiting friend told him that he had been commissioned to sell Vega Sicilia, but had yet to find a buyer. Mr Alvarez - who had neither visited the estate nor drunk a Vega Sicilia - said then that he would buy it.
Vega Sicilia Unico Reserva Especial (vintages 1991, 1994, 1999)
Dec 7, 2016, dinner at home.
A non-vintage blend of the three vintages, usual blend 70 per cent Tinto Fino (tempranillo), 20 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, 10 per cent mixture of Merlot and Malbec. Aged at least 10 years.
A deep, dark red with brownish tints. Fragrant, fresh aroma of ripe berry fruit, a rich, lush but quite firm-bodied liquid, dark haunting colours, complex, leaving a long, lingering impression on the palate. Still youthful, will hold for 10 or more years easily.
Valbuena 2002, Bodegas Vega Sicilia
Same cepage as the Vega Sicilia Unico, aged for five years.
Dark red, light brown tint. Aroma has stronger element of Cabernet Sauvignon (cedar wood) amid rich aromas. Dark flavours, good, ripe fruit. Lovely finish. At peak, but will hold for a good many more years.
Vega Sicilia Unico 1999
April 1, 2016
At dinner at American Club
Deep, dark, youthful red. Lovely nose, drank beautifully, good fruit and the Cabernet Sauvignon could easily be detected in both the aroma and on the palate.
Alion 2004 magnum, Bodegas Alion
March 31, 2015, dinner at home for Joël Robuchon
Dark red, with a trace of brown. A lovely wine, full-bodied, perfectly ripe fruit, drank beautifully, had impeccable balance, good depth of taste with some profundity and good freshness. An easy and agreeable wine.
Vega Sicilia Unico 1981 magnum
July 10, 2014, at Vega Sicilia's 150th anniversary dinner at the Bodegas, Ribera del Duero
This was classic Unico, fresh, ripe fruit, well balanced. Everything was in the right place and proportion, drank very well. Good complexity and long, smooth finish.
Vega Sicilia could almost be said to be Spain's First Growth, and its oldest. Its quality is unquestionable, its vinous appeal universal, and its longevity, above question. It is matured in barrel and bottle at least 10 years, often more, before it is released for sale.
Vega Sicilia owes its current quality and reputation entirely to Pablo Alvarez, who runs Vega on behalf of the family. He is a perfectionist, period. I have seen him transform the winery into one in which the label "State of the art" says it all.
The entire complex - the vineyards, winery buildings, equipment, reception and lounge display meticulous attention to the highest quality and aesthetics. The same attention has been paid to the surrounding forest reserve, down to the type of trees planted there. Ecological attention to the environment, with an emphasis on conservation and beauty, are clearly discernible.
I am reminded of the famous lines from the poem Endymion, Book I, by John Keats (1795-1821):
A thing of beauty is a joy forever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep.
Postscript: Readers may want to take note that three wine masterclasses will be held over the weekend of Jan 7 and 8, to be moderated by two Masters of Wine, Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW and Tan Ying Hsien MW. Wine-growers whose wines will be shown will present to discuss their wines. The following is an abridged list of wines to be shown:
Bordeaux: Châteaux Palmer, Leoville Barton, Langoa Barton, d'Issan, Haut Bailly, Le Pin, Vieux Château Certan, Pichon-Longueville Baron.
Burgundy: Domaines J. F, Mugnier, Michel Gros.
Spain: Dominio de Pingus, Pablo Alvarez Bodegas Vega Sicilia, Remondo Palacios, Alvaro Palacios Gratallops Priorato, Descendientes Palacios Bierzo.
Italy: Marchese Leonardo Frescobaldi, Conti Costanti, Tenuta dell' Ornellaia, Vinding Montecarrubo, Isole e Olena, Pio Cesare.
Germany: Egon Muller-Scharzhopf, Friedrich Becker, Helmut Doennhoff, Schlossgut Diel.
Sonoma Valley, California: Freeman Winery.
For more details, please e-mail Daniel Chia at email@example.com. All proceeds will be donated to St Andrew's Autism Centre.