My 1st Article In Spirito di Vino Asia - A Tasting of Vega Sicilia Wines....

Reproduced from Spirito Di Vino Asia Edition Year 3, Number 9

It is somehwat fitting that Pierre, the 2 Michelin Star restaurant of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Kong Kong, was selected for us to taste the new release of Vega Sicilia’s wines during a lunch hosted by their importer, ASC Fine Wines.  Indeed, there is a parallel between the philosophy of Chef Pierre Gagnaire and the one that inspires the Álvarez  Mezquíriz family in the caretaking of their 5 properties in Spain and in Hungary.

The iconic Chef is driven by a set of values that guides his team around the world to present us with wonderful dishes that are often as much works of art and beauty to nourish our soul as they are edible delights to replenish our energies.  Chef Gagnaire thrives for elegance, simplicity, rigour, and respect in the art of his creations.  In his words, “patiently, and after long consideration, my work has found its way, nurtured by precision, coherence, and common sense, and also by the unexpected.  I am looking to master my innovations while keeping and eye on the technique and discerning knowledge I have acquired”.  Ulitimately, this source of inspration “communes with everything that speaks of feelings, pleasure, and knowledge”.

Founded in 1864, at the time when Ribera Del Duero did not have any wine industry, Vega Sicilia has since developped it own deep traditions that came to produce not only a wine of exceptional quality but also of a unique personality.  Considered one of Spain’s “First-Growth”, it is now among its most prestigious wine estate.  My colleague, Luca Guardini, Spirito Di Vino’s “World Wine Hunter” has included Vega Sicilia’s Uníco 2003 in his list of the World’s 100 Best Wines of 2013 (issue #59).

In 1982, the Álvarez Mezquíriz family acquired, and since have managed, the estate with “a policy of harmonisation of present innovative techniques with the traditional wine making process”.  In the years following, the family acquired three other estates in Spain and one in Hungary stearing them with “absolute respect for quality while applying rigour and scrupulousness” to produce outstanding wines each with its own personality and clear expression of its terroir and traditions.

In fact, the word “respect” was mentionned several times during lunch by Ms Purificacion Mancebo Lobeta, the Export Director of Vega Sicilia, as she guided us through the iconic wines of our tasting.  Respect for the grapes, respect for the traditions, respect for the personality of the terroir.  A concept driven to us during the tasting itself.  As we tasted the wines, we could feel that they were not pushed into being something they were not.  The wines were all elegant in their specific character.  Each clearly expressing its personality yet, in a self-confident, unassuming, and authentic way.

Perhaps the wines are very much like the personality of Pablo Álvarez, now in charge of the family winery group.  He is said to be shy and unassuming, with a deep sensitivity to art and beauty.  According to Lobeta, he sees himself as a caretaker of the wineries under his responsibility, knowing fully well that they will be one day under the responsibility of another generation.  His approach is to respect the traditions that came before and be rigourous, precise and coherent today in order for the estates to continue producing outstanding wines for decades, if not centuries ahead.

The wines from Bodegas & Vinedos Alion & Pintia were clearly the most powerful and modern of the flights, full of strength and exhuberance unlike the tradition of Vega Sicilia. Yet, the wines showed a finesse and expression in line with the philosophy of the family.  None were decanted before our tasting at the insistance of Álvarez to demonstrate that even so young, they could be caressing and balanced directly out of the bottle. From Ribera Del Duero, a cool climate at 800 m of altitude, the Albion displayed a certain liveliness of character while being full of strength & exhuberant all at once.  The Pintia from the region of Toro was the more structured of the two reflecting a harsher and warmer terroir of origin, one that sees very long, hot and sunny days with very dry stony soils.

The wines from Vega Sicilia, the Valbuena and the Unicó from Ribera Del Duero, were something else altogether.  Both in elegance and delicacy.  Graciousness and old wordliness.  Clearly displaying a reflection of the long history that premeates the walls of the estate.  Perhaps as well, they represent the sense of continuity and the deep appreciation of the beauty that has come before instead of the chase for what comes next.  In fact, Lobeta mentionned that only 4 winemakers produced the wines during the 150 years history of the winery, testament of the solid traditions it is embedded into it.  The Valbuena, with 5 years of ageing before release showed a lovely drinkability.  The Unicó, with 11 years of ageing before release, was a sublime beauty.  Full of elegance with a stunning underlying strength.  Seemly fragile and delicate, yet energetic and everlasting.  Not unlike the impression we get from watching and outstanding performance of a principal of the Royal Ballet.

The Macán 2009, is the first release of a joint venture between Vega Sicilia and Benjamin Rothshild, a swiss banker and son of the founder of Château Clarke in Bordeaux.  This project started in secret 2002 and took 11 years to see its first wine released.  In total secrecy, an anonymous company was created by the two partners, 75 hectares of 35-40 years-old low yielding vines and another 25 hectares of unplanted land was purchased over the period in the Rioja region of Spain.  This wine was made in a rented winery and, now that the project is public, there are plans to build one of their own.

The wines from Tokaji Oremus were stricking in their purity. The winery was a pionneer in the production of dry furmint in Hungary years ago and today the Mandolas constitutes 50% of its production.  Composed of 100% furmint, it is made with the healthiest grapes to represent the clearest expression of its origin.  The production of Tokaji Aszú 6 Puttonyos has deep roots into history , with its 200 g/l of residual sugar and lively acidity, it aims to represent the wines as they were once enjoyed by the king of France Louis XIV.

Overall, the delicacy and beauty of the dishes of Pierre Gagnaire and the elegance and finesse of the wines from the älvarez family complemented each other wonderfully to create a kind of crescendo of emotions that is what fine dinning and fine drinking is really all about.  Wonderful.

Tasting Notes:

2010 Dry Furmint Mandolas Tokaji Oremus, Hungary – retail hkd 224

beautiful lemon color with intense aromas of tropical fruits, candied ananas and apricot with a faint touch of spices.  pure and mouthwatering nose.  sumptuous texture, supple & rich with delightfully caressing mid-palate.  long expressive finish full of tropical & exotic notes. very good. 88/100


2009 Bodega & Vinedos Alion Ribera Del Duero Spain – retail hkd 530

moderate purple pushing all the way to the rim.  warm and sweet black fruits dominating with notes of black olives and tobacco elegantly complementing it.  powerful. velvety integrated tannins and supple mid-palate with a lively freshness.  ready to drink but will benefit from ageing.  excellent. 91/100


2009 Bodega & Vinedos Pintia Toro Spain – retail hkd 420

deep purple pushing to the rim. deep aromas with warm black fruits and delicate notes of strawberry and leather.  full and chewy with velvety but grippy tannins.  a mouthful. rich and dense texture of mid-palate, yet already all in balance.  clearly, much potential for ageing another 10 years.  excellent. 93/100


2008 Bodega & Vinedos Vega Sicilia Valbuena Ribera Del Duero Spain – retail hkd 1,000

moderate ruby pushing to the rim.  delightfully complex and elegant nose.  restrained with gentle notes of red and black fruits and a touch of leather. savoury but lively mid-palate with beautifully integrated silky tannins.  long fruity and spicy finish.  can keep but wonderful now.  excellent. 92/100


2003 Bodega & Vinedos Vega Sicilia Unico Ribera Del Duero Spain – retail hkd 2,250

moderate ruby with a thin rim. extremely complex with an old world grace and elegance. supple, lively, and silky mid-palate.  tenderly caressing. yet, it has the vibrancy of an underlying energy giving it an ethereal and exotic finish that seduces and engage in a dreamlike emotionkeepoutstanding. 95/100


2009 Benjamin Rotshild & Vega Sicilia Macán Rioja Spain- retail hkd 585

deep ruby pushing to the rim.  delicate red fruits, herbs and spices with a touch of tobacco and leather.  graciousfull bodied yet with a smooth and supple mid-palate.  lovely silky and integrated tannins.  beautiful balanced structure.  vibrant and firm finish hinting at much potential for ageing.  excellent. 92/100


2003 Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos Tokaji Oremus Hungary – retail hkd 823

beautiful amber color with golden highlights. complex and elegant nose with notes of orange peel, quince, and slightly smoky with delicately integrated notes of botrytislusciously sweet and silky mid-palate. fresh with a long finish and exotic spices and a generous caress from its sweetness.  excellent. 90/100