Today I traveled to the beautiful Umstead Hotel to enjoy a wine luncheon featuring the wines of Vega Sicilia with Muri Mancebo, the wonderful spokeswoman of the estate.
Vega Sicilia, the wine of Ribera del Duero and possibly Spain. I am no authority on this wine to give you the in-depth history, but I would love for you to enjoy the small history I received during my lunch today. Ms. Mancebo not only entertained our group with the rich history of Vega Sicilia, she also gave an in-depth explanation of the group’s many questions.
While Vega Sicilia is most well-known for the Unico, their incredible wine made from approximately 80% Tinto Fino (Tempranillo) and roughly 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, I must begin the way we did, which was with a dry Hungarian white. Confused? Don’t be. It goes like this.
Vega Sicilia bought a Hungarian vineyard in 1993 called Oremus in the land of Tokaji. Tokaji is a dessert wine made from Hungarian indigenous grapes that is intensely sweet and richly delicious. This was my first opportunity to taste one made in a dry style, and I was absolutely blown away. Made with the grape Furmint, we were so generously poured the 2004 vintage, meaning we tasted a wine that had age on it. While the wine sees new Hungarian oak barrels during its ageing process, it had screaming acidity with an awesome honeyed nose and the oak (not something I am crazy about in white wine) was so well integrated, I almost missed it. The wine is called Mandolas from Oremus Winery and Mandolas is the name of the single vineyard. If you some to On the Square after Friday of this week, you are more than welcome to buy a bottle as I immediately bought two six-packs because it was absolutely love at first sip. What was equally cool about this experience was the fact that the same wine from the 2007 vintage was poured immediately afterwards, and while the wines are both made from 100% Furmint and vinified in the same manner, the wines were two different personalities altogether. The 2007 was laden with minerals with crisp pear on the mid-palate and an almond finish. Again, the oak was not what it seemed. Maybe Hungarian oak is my new best friend. Regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed tasting two wines that were the “same” yet could be sold to two totally different wine lovers. I will buy this wine to sell at our restaurant, but it has not yet come into our market so I’ll keep you posted.
Now, down to the nitty gritty, the insanely delicious reds of this cult winery.
In Castilla y Leon, there are five major wine producing regions: Bierzo, Cigales, Rueda, Toro and Ribera del Duero. While Ribera is the most famous, Toro is doing a great job of keeping up with the moving momentum of Ribera, and other wineries are recognizing this. There is no difference when it comes to Vega Sicilia. A winery in Ribera, they have bought property in Toro, and 2001 marked their first vintage of Pintia. Today, we tasted the 2004, their 3rd vintage, and the wine totally rocked the casbah. Made from 100% Tinto del Toro (yet another synonym for Tempranillo), when you looked at the glass, the wine was almost opaque in color; very odd for this grape. Of course, there is a reason for everything, and we found out why the wine was so dark even though it was made with Tempranillo. Toro is extremely hot, and it isn’t unusual to be around 105 degrees during the day during the growing season. The soil is red clay with a carpet of stones that are reminiscent of the vineyards in Chateauneuf du Pape. Because of the extreme heat, the grape develops a thicker skin, than it would, say, in Ribera or Rioja. The skin becomes thicker to protect itself from dehydration, and in turn, a darker wine is made. Pretty fascinating, right? The wine is pretty with an inky color and aromas of violet, dark plums and granite. Flavors of spicy chocolate in the palate make this wine intense yet elegant, to boot. I was not aware of this project until today, but now, I am a total fan. For those of you who love a little history, the name Pintia comes from an archaeological site close to Ribera where a clay wine glass pre-dating Roman times was found. I don’t know about you, but I found that completely fascinating. Again, if I can get this wine, we will carry it.
Now, we are getting a little closer to the bull’s eye. The next wine was Alion 2005, our first wine from Ribera del Duero made from 100% Tinto Fino grown in four different towns. The first vintage was 1991, and nineteen years later, the wine is anything but less intriguing. Aged in 100% new French oak, this wine had flavors of macerated strawberries, really great coffee and lots of clove. It drank incredibly well, and of all the wines enjoyed today, it showed the best, in my humble opinion. Alion is made for the consumer who needs to drink the wine now versus later. If you’re like me, you are thinking who isn’t like that? But, the bottom line is, some wines are meant to age, and will be so much more satisfying if you allow them to do so. However, there are people who enjoy wines in their youth, and the Alion is very much approachable in its youth, as I discovered today. Bottoms up if you want something now because this wine drinks beautifully, provoking many wonderful thoughts at the same time.
Closer and closer to the pot of gold… Next, we tasted the Valbuena 2004 from Vega Sicilia. Made from primarily Tinto Fino blended with Merlot and a little less Malbec, this wine is NOT a second label. Aged three years in 100% French oak, this wine seemed the most closed to me. It is so interesting to me the irony of wine: in the 2000’s, 2004 and 2009 are considered the best vintages. However, right now, 2004s are not showing as well because they are tight, even closed. While you can taste this wine upon opening and realize it is a premature baby, you are also able to realize the wine will turn into a complete fox or a hunk, whichever you prefer; I will not be biased against gender. Some moss, some caramel, some peppery spice, the wine needs time. As she told us during lunch, the wine is meant to be aged ten years before drinking, and the winery has already done half the work as the 2004 is the current release. So listen carefully, I am buying this wine, but I do not recommend drinking it now. Take it home, and be patient. Also, lock it down from your thirsty teenage youth.
The Mac Daddy comes to the table.
Last, but not least, we tasted the 1999 Unico from Vega Sicilia, a wine made from 80% Tinto Fino and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. I know, I previously stated this, but some people need to read it twice to remember it. I know I do. This wine is aged in 50% new American oak and 50% new French oak, and it reeks of dried red fruits, tobacco, leather and a sweet mocha finish. It is hedonism in a glass. It is utterly fantastic, and while I will only be able to buy two bottles for the restaurant, I will give them special care and only sell them to people I deem worthy. It’s like this, are you fit to be a parent? If you are, I need to make sure before I give you this delicate baby. This wine is meant to be aged 20 years before being drunk, and again, the winery has already done half of the work. I will say, however, the Unico was so much more expressive than the Valbuena, even though it was opened 9 years too early.
I would not be fair if I didn’t list the pricing because I know everyone is wondering by now what the damage would be. Quality is not cheap, and this winery is truly top notch, even hiring its own coopers (translate barrel makers). If you just want to stop now and enjoy the magic of these wines without wondering about a price tag, I encourage you to do so. However, if you need to know, please scroll below because we understand the risk, yet we are still going to do it.
Cheers everyone–I am still tasting the last drops of my wine that was drunk eight hours ago.
Oremus Dry Tokaji 2004 $23/btl