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  • Vega Sicilia Único 1942-2013
  • Vega Sicilia Único 1942-2013
  • Vega Sicilia Único 1942-2013
  • Vega Sicilia Único 1942-2013
  • Vega Sicilia Único 1942-2013
  • Vega Sicilia Único 1942-2013
1. Único 1970. 2. Valbuena 2018 and 2005. 3 y 4. Some of Etxebarri’s delicious dishes. 6. Pablo Álvarez and chef Bittor Arginzoniz. 7. Table mates, including winemaker Gonzalo Iturriaga, first on the left. Photo credits: Tempos Vega Sicilia and AC

Wineries to watch

Vega Sicilia Único 1942-2013

Amaya Cervera | December 6th, 2022

No other historic Spanish wine brand exerts such fascination and holds so privileged a position in the fine wine market. In fact, Vega Sicilia is the only producer to feature on the 2022 Liv-Ex Power 100 list, published in late November. As Bordeaux seems to lose ground in favour of Burgundy’s growing influence, non-French wines this year were limited to Italy (12), the US (8), Australia (1) and Vega Sicilia, rising from 80th position in 2021 to 69th.

The legendary Ribera del Duero estate has been particularly active in 2022, the year that marks the 40th anniversary of the purchase of Vega Sicilia by the Álvarez family. In February, the company presented a new project in Rías Baixas to produce whites from Albariño. Celebrations after the summer included two vertical tastings, one held for the international press in September at Celler de Can Roca in Girona, and a second one for us locals in November at Etxebarri, one of the Basque Country's top restaurants. 


The tasting at Celler de Can Roca included 40 vintages from magnums (some of them still unreleased) going back to 1960. At the Etxebarri tasting, magnums were mixed with 75 cl. bottles; there were fewer wines, but some older vintages, including two from the 1950s and one from the 1940s. At an auction conducted a few days ago in Geneva by Baghera Wines, a private collector got hold of a similar array of bottles to the one enjoyed at Girona's three Michelin-starred restaurant. It consisted of 36 Único magnums that fetched €111,447. This was the highest bid at a sale with many great wines from around the world - the best proof of the brand's reputation and its ageing ability. 

A story of its own

Vega Sicilia's legendary appeal must be largely due to its isolation. Until Ribera del Duero took off in the last quarter of the 20th century following the success of Pesquera, it was a solitary presence in the Castilian high plain -the DO was established in 1982, the very same year that the Álvarez family acquired Vega Sicilia. And yet then the extended-ageing style of Único, its most distinctive wine, was a far cry from the modern vigorous, fruit-driven Ribera reds.

The wine was created at the beginning of the 20th century, following the winemaking philosophy of Rioja in those days. The Herrero family, who owned the property at the time, introduced the wines into their social circles, frequently as a gift rather than for sale, thus nurturing the legend of a wine that very few people had access to. Subsequent owners included Prodes seeds company and a Venezuelan businessman who managed the property from overseas. The Álvarez family propelled Vega Sicilia into modernity in amidst profound changes in winemaking as well as in the Spanish political and economic scenes. Its great achievement was to introduce a brand that was virtually unknown to the global market and place it among the best wines in the world. You can read more insights and challenges in this article we published in 2015 on the occasion of the winery's 150th anniversary -you will also notice the significant price increases of all the wines in the Tempos Vega Sicilia Group.

An earnest, modest and unaffected man, Pablo Álvarez (pictured below) has been at the helm of Vega Sicilia since 1986. A down-to-earth, unassuming man, Álvarez has been tireless, travelling the world to present the Castilian red that can gracefully pass the test of time but also launching new projects. From Ribera del Duero itself (Alión) and neighbouring Toro (Pintia) to Tokaj in Hungary and, more recently, to Rioja in partnership with the Rothschilds and, again as sole proprietor, with Deiva, the group's latest venture in Rías Baixas, whose first wines are expected to be released in 2025.


"Vega Sicilia has been, is and will be the inspiration behind all our projects, the existing ones and those to come. We believe in bringing quality to absolutely everything: at every step in the vineyards and in the winemaking process, as well as in serving our thousands of customers worldwide," wrote Pablo Álvarez on the occasion of the 40th anniversary.

Now the question remains as to who will succeed him at the helm of a brand that over the years has proved to be stronger than its different owners. Never before had such an enormous amount of work been done to retain and increase the prestige of Vega Sicilia.

What has changed in eight decades?

Few wineries in Spain can present so many old vintages and in such good shape as Vega Sicilia. Único always retains the distinctive austerity of the extreme climate conditions in Ribera del Duero. This adds character and substance and acts as a sort of backbone to the wines. Then each vintage brings its own nuances resulting in different expressions: expansive, restrained, even baroque.

The main differences between present-day wines and those from yesteryear are a gradual reduction of international grape varieties in the blend, notably Cabernet Sauvignon, and higher alcohol, which is a common issue in most wine regions worldwide. From the 1999 vintage onwards, wines reach or exceed 14% abv.

Obviously, the making of Único has evolved over time. While it is still released ten years after the harvest date, newer barrels are used nowadays, the wine spends less time in oak and large wooden vats are preferred, especially since Gonzalo Iturriaga took over winemaking in 2014, although he wasn’t fully in charge of the whole process until 2015. Last year Iturriaga guided us through the making of Único and the complex blending behind it.

Único spends between five and six years in various oak containers. The pattern was similar in the 1990s except for 1991 and 1994, both of which were aged for eight years in wood, in line with the standard of the previous two decades, when it was common to have the wines ageing for 10 years. The 1989 was aged for at least 12 years and the legendary 1970 spent 15 years in different wooden vats.


Produced only in the best vintages, Único has achieved exceptional consistency throughout the 21st century. The only vintage that wasn't released during this period was 2001. The property was struck by frost and the family decided that Único could not be made from second-budding grapes. From then on, the wine has been released in every vintage, often undergoing significant production cuts, as it was the case in difficult years like 2007 and 2008.

The tasting

Vega Sicilia Único 2013 Magnum
97% Tinto Fino, 3% Cabernet Sauvignon
14.5% vol.
76,476 bottles, 3,658 magnums, 362 double magnums, 59 Impériales and 6 Salmanazars 

Serious, complex, slightly austere red with sweet spices (cinnamon), red fruit and cocoa notes on the background. Less structured than the standard Único, but fresh, nuanced and long. A good job considering that 2013 was marked by rain and low temperatures during the ripening season. A wine to lay down.

Vega Sicilia Único 2010 Magnum
94% Tinto Fino, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon
14.5% vol.
85,185 bottles, 3,362 magnums, 228 double magnums, 36 Impériales

One of the best vintages of the 21st century. Fine, complex nose with creamy oak and dried fruit (salty almonds) evolving to minty aromas. Finely textured palate with a great deal of everything, fully ripe tannins and outstanding length. Outstanding elegance and charm. 2010 was a model vintage. It benefited from good water resources on the subsoil and perfect weather conditions: generous sun and notable temperature variations between day and night during the ripening season.

Vega Sicilia Único 2009 Magnum
94% Tinto Fino, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon
14.5% vol.
74,274 bottles, 3,390 magnums, 209 double magnums, 22 Impériales

The wine starts riper than 2010 and somewhat austere (hazelnut skin), then fruit takes over and becomes juicer on the palate. Evolving well on the glass. Firm tannins and very good potential. Weather conditions were also favourable with temperature variations between day and night during the ripening season. The absence of rain in spring resulted in very healthy grapes.

Vega Sicilia Único 2004 Magnum
87% Tinto Fino, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon
14% vol.
87,516 bottles, 2,227 magnums, 156 double magnums, 5 Impériales

Cabernet Sauvignon plays a bigger role here compared with previous vintages. Deep, concentrated, spicy nose with ripe fruit evolving to blueberries, dried flowers and minty aromas -the wine keeps changing on the glass. Amazing texture as it goes down slowly through the palate. Complex and extremely long, everything is in the right place. This amazing wine benefited from excellent weather conditions: a cold, rainy winter was followed by a mild spring and a hot summer with rain falling at the right time. 

Vega Sicilia Único 1999 Magnum
90% Tinto Fino, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon
14% vol.
96,159, 2,596 magnums, 157 double magnums

The nose starts with dairy and toffee aromas over a background of dark fruit. Medium-bodied, yet flowing easily, really pleasant and finely textured; a good ambassador for Único. 1999 was a late, difficult harvest: picking started on October 11th, but the rain brought it to a halt until November 1st. The Cabernet Sauvignon was harvested on November 16th.  

 
Vega Sicilia Único 1996 Magnum
90% Tinto Fino, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon
13.5% vol.
99,480 bottles, 2,235 magnums, 150 double magnums

Energetic and vibrant, very much alive and still with plenty of fruit (raspberry jam) over its fine toasted aromas. Vibrant and juicy on the palate, as if it held the secret to eternal youth; there is no trace of austerity in this 1996. A cold and rainy but frost-free spring preceded a hot summer with intermittent rainfall. Harvest began on October 1st.

Vega Sicilia Único 1994 Magnum
85% Tinto Fino, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon
13.5% vol.
96,280 bottles, 2,196 magnums, 150 double magnums

Highly complex nose with a wealth of nuances. It is starting to show the baroque style that distinguishes some old Únicos, but the fruit and spicy notes are still present. There are some minty hints from the Cabernet (15%) on a finely textured palate. This is very much alive and simply delicious. Yet another top vintage blessed with generous spring rain and a dry summer. Great ageing potential and one of the wines with the longest oak ageing (106 months) from 1990 onwards.

Vega Sicilia Único 1991 Magnum
85% Tinto Fino, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon
14% vol.
98,098 bottles, 2,222 magnums, 132 double magnums

This vintage was highly praised in Ribera del Duero in its day and it does not disappoint. Smoky aromas and sweet spices with fine tertiary notes (tobacco). Generous palate, refined texture and bright acidity living up to Vega Sicilia's reputation for long-lasting wines. There was slightly less rainfall and higher temperatures during the summer taking alcohol levels up to 14% vol.

Vega Sicilia Único 1990 Magnum
80% Tinto Fino, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon
13.5% vol.
109,548 bottles, 2,653 magnums, 150 double magnums

It started a bit shy and closed and didn’t have the appeal of other vintages on the nose. Savoury palate with noticeable acidity, perhaps lacking a bit of roundness, yet bright and with plenty of tension offset by some creamy notes on the finish. Cabernet Sauvignon represents 20% of the blend.

Vega Sicilia Único 1989 Magnum
80% Tinto Fino, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon
13.5% vol.
105,860 75 cl. bottles, 2,632 magnums, 150 double magnums

A refined expression of Ribera but it also brings Bordeaux to mind: spicy, complex, subtle rather than powerful. Deep, fresh, elegant palate with Cabernet leaving its mark, refined tannins, excellent texture and persistence. Very much alive, as if frozen in time. The winter was cold and rainy, the spring mild and the summer warm. Longest oak ageing (148 months) among the vintages tasted from the 1980s.


Vega Sicilia Único 1986 Magnum
75% Tinto Fino, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon
13.5% vol.
62,748 bottles, 2,000 magnums, 102 double magnums

Cabernet is up and production drops noticeably. Not the best bottle of the tasting. It started with plenty of leathery aromas, followed by dairy notes. The wine performed better on the palate but lacked the length of other vintages. Climatically, 1986 was another textbook vintage with enough rain and splendid weather during the harvest.

Vega Sicilia Único 1981 Magnum
65% Tinto Fino, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot and Malbec
13.5% vol.
77,092 bottles, 2,000 magnums, 52 double magnums

Tempranillo is still dominant, but new players join in (Cabernet, Merlot and Malbec were allowed in Ribera del Duero when the DO was established in 1982 because they were grown at Vega Sicilia). This feels closer to Bordeaux (underbrush, redcurrant and raspberry) but retains the sweet spicy notes. Good acidity and tension on the palate, finishing with a toasty note reminiscent of sunflower seeds. Minty and surprisingly alive. A rainy year, even during the harvest, with the standard temperature variations during the ripening season.

Vega Sicilia Único 1980
60% Tinto Fino, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 10% Malbec, Albillo
13.5% vol.
38,480 bottles, 2,000 magnums

From the period when Único included small amounts of the local white Albillo in the blend. Spicy nose with brandied fruit (raspberry, sloe) and sweet spices (cinnamon). Outstanding acidity and texture, with great tension and length. It made me think of Bordeaux. 1980 was an irregular year; harvest begun late, on October 20th.

Vega Sicilia Único 1975
70% Tinto Fino, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 5% Malbec, Albillo
13.5% vol.
44,750 bottles, 2,000 magnums

This bottle felt a bit tired and slightly evolved. On the palate it showed some edges as the acidity was starting to go its own way, but it was still relatively full-bodied. After a dry and hot summer, harvesting began on October 8th.

Vega Sicilia Único 1974
70% Tinto Fino, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot
13,5% vol.
63,500 bottles, 2,000 magnums 

A mild year with a hot summer. Picking started on October 10th. Nuts and spices (nutmeg) on the nose. Medium body, with a herbal touch from the Cabernet. Slightly below the average in terms of complexity and length.


Vega Sicilia Único 1970
70% Tinto Fino, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, Malbec
13% vol.
94,500 bottles, 2,000 magnums  

An indisputable wine and the finest of the tasting, considering how difficult it is to stand out among so many top quality bottles. Fresh and deep, it expresses itself in a multidimensional way. Super complex, nose with brandied fruit, minty notes, nuts and spices evolving into toffee, curry and liquorice. Think of a spherical shape as it voluptuously fills the palate. An extremely elegant, velvety textured and multi-layered red with an almost endless finish. Unforgettable. This is the second time I have tasted a 1970 and, on both occasions, I have been blown away by it. Undoubtedly, one of the best reds I have ever tasted. Climatically, the winter was cold and rainy and the summer was hot with notable day-night temperature fluctuations. Picking started early in fine weather conditions. Oak ageing was extremely long: the 1970 spent five years in large wooden vats followed by 10 years in seasoned barrels.

Vega Sicilia Único 1968
70% Tinto Fino, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot, Malbec, Albillo
13.5% vol.
45,300 bottles, 2000 magnums  

Baroque, opulent style with liquorice and fine wood aromas. Mature but retaining character on the palate. It seems past its best. How long can it remain in its present state? A rainy winter and spring preceded the harvest; the summer was warm and picking went smoothly from October 6th onwards.

Vega Sicilia Único 1965
75% Tinto Fino, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Merlot, Malbec
13.5% vol.
91,000 bottles, 2,000 magnums  

Elegant nose with smoky aromas and nutty notes over a caramel background. Opulent, developing slowly on the palate and with notable length, although it falters slightly after some time in the glass. It fits into the Único style with long oak ageing. The wine spent three years in 22,000-litre wooden vats, one year in 576-litre barrels and 10 years in 225-litre seasoned barrels. It rained generously in winter and spring and the vines enjoyed a classic warm summer with temperature variations during the ripening season.

Vega Sicilia Único 1964
65% Tinto Fino, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Merlot, Malbec, Albillo
13.5% vol.
96,000 bottles

Austere character, hazelnuts and tertiary notes and, on first impression, slightly weaker than the 65. Just starting its decline. The good summer conditions meant picking started in early October.

Vega Sicilia Único 1962
70% Tinto Fino, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon y 10% Merlot, Malbec, Albillo
13.5% vol.
87,600 bottles, 2,200 magnums

Although weather conditions were similar to the other two 1960s vintages, the 62 had a brighter, deeper colour. Also nutty, but more intense and complex with spices, brandied fruit and fine toasted notes. Rich, persistent, well-structured and with good acidity and persistence. Wines of this quality, capable of evolving slowly, make Vega Sicilia a collector’s favourite. Once again, a vintage with very long oak ageing: three years in 20,000-litre wooden vats, two years in 700-litre bocoyes and 12 years in 215-litre old barrels, according to the information provided by the producer.

Vega Sicilia Único 1960
70% Tinto Fino, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, Malbec, Albillo
13.5% vol.
63,000 bottles, 2,200 magnums

Oak is more present on the nose, but there are also brandied fruit and spicy notes. Less structured that the 62, but with lovely tension on the palate. Admirable evolution in a harvest blessed with mild temperatures.

Vega Sicilia Único 1957
80% Tinto Fino, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon 
13.5% vol.
25,500 75 cl. bottles

Sour brandied cherry with some aldehyde notes and spices. Savoury palate thanks to its good acidity, perhaps slightly below the 1960, but the wine maintains the high standards of the tasting. The number of bottles produced was considerably lower, probably as a consequence of the sale of the estate to Prodes seed company in 1952 and the fact that the new owner might have been more interested in other crops than wine.


Vega Sicilia Único 1953
80% Tinto Fino, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, Malbec, Albillo
13.5% vol.
32,000 75 cl. bottles 

Fuller and more expressive than the 57. Rich nose, with plenty of sweet spices and cherry liqueur. Lively palate providing good length and remarkable persistence with lots of spices and vibrant acidity on the finish. As the producer reminded us, wines on these years were first aged in wooden vats, followed by 700-litre bocoyes and finally seasoned barrels - new oak could exceptionally be brought in when barrels needed replacement.

Vega Sicilia Único 1942
70% Tinto Fino, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, Albillo
13.5% vol.
12,150 75 cl. bottles

The postwar years (the Spanish Civil War took place between 1936 and 1939) must have been very challenging, judging by the small number of bottles produced.  Nevertheless, great wines were made in the 1940s in the most renowned wine regions, including those involved in World War II. This 42 was the icing on the cake in the tasting as it showed how oxidative evolution can develop seamlessly. The wine’s obvious tertiary character, spices and salted almonds took me for a moment to fine cabinet-maker’s workshop or to the sacristía wines in Jerez. Surprisingly full, almost concentrated palate and sapid, with some umami notes. The acidity perfectly supported the wine without compromising its rich, mature character.

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