Vega Sicilia: Ribera and Rhubarb

There are occasional days when I take a little look at my life from the outside and think “yes, you know what, you’re a little bit lucky”. Today was one of those days. I really am incredibly spoilt. Vega Sicilia

A colleague and I were invited to the launch tasting of the latest vintage releases from iconic Ribera del Duero property, Vega Sicilia. For those not already in know, in very simple terms, Ribera del Duero is a region in the north of Spain known for its red wines, made usually from the Tempranillo grape. Vega Sicilia is its most famous wine producer, established in the 19th Century and making long-lived red wines from a blend of Tempranillo and international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

This morning we tasted the four great reds made by the property: Pintia, Alion, Valbuena and Unico.  I only tasted these wines for the first time a couple of weeks ago, so I was intrigued to be able to taste the newest vintages and had an open mind as to what to expect. They were all tremendously good, and all incredibly different from each other. The 2008 Pintia was an open and attractive charmer; the 2008 Alion was more closed and reserved, in need of lots of patience, but probably worth the wait; the 2007 Valbuena was absolutely beautiful, no two ways about it; the 2002 Unico was pure, fresh, tightly wound and supremely elegant. It was the Valbuena that truly won my heart today, but the Unico – I believe – will prove to be a winner.

Following this, we were very privileged to be invited to lunch at the newly opened HIX restaurant in the Belgraves hotel. Alongside a menu of Senorio ham, sirloin of Shorthorn beef, cheese and Yorkshire rhubarb jelly with bergamot icecream, we were served 2009 Mandolas (Furmint from Vega Sicilia’s property in Tokaji), 2004 Alion and Valbuena, 1995 Unico, 1987 Unico and 2002 Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos.

The food was very good and represented the first time that I have EVER enjoyed rhubarb, but it was the wine that took centre stage – and rightly so. Of the first pair of red wines, it was the Valbuena once again that I was drawn to – structured, yet fragrant with soft dark berry fruits, subtle spice and a beautifully layered texture. The two older vintages of Unico demonstrated the ageing potential these wines: the 1995 barely looked a day old and was packed full of ripe fruit characters; structural tannins framed a voluptuous fruit profile – it still had a long way to go. Javier Ausas from the estate said that he wouldn’t touch Unico for at least 20 years after its vintage and the 1987 vintage (now 25 years old) proved his point; it was still delightfully fresh and was only just beginning to show maturation qualities.

It’s hard to believe, but I could be a lot more geeky and enthusiastic about these wines. However, I shall call it a day for now. They are fantastic wines. That’s probably all I needed to say in the first place.

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