Spain & Portugal

A Vega Sicilia line up
Justerini & Brooks - 10 March 2015

This week saw the annual tasting of new releases from the Vega Sicilia stable. 

As ever, it was eagerly anticipated by the Justerini & Brooks team who were keen to get to grips with both the Valbuena 2010 and Unico 2007. The first Unico to be released since the 2004, the 2007 gently bucks the trend of ten years cellar time post-vintage, thus allowing the brooding 2005 to lie dormant a little longer. 2007 was considered a ‘challenging’ vintage; indeed, it mirrored a number of the weather conditions seen in much-maligned 2007 Bordeaux. This necessitated the strictest possible selection of fruit for Unico which is only produced in years when quality allows. Rest assured, on tasting it, our concerns were quickly allayed.

Vega Sicilia is often considered as an estate that tends to overcome the caprices of a given vintage. Speaking with Javier Ausas, chief winemaker and all-around head honcho at the estate, his feeling is that Unico can broadly be described as producing two distinct styles through the years. It either falls into the liberal, opulent, generous style we have seen in vintages such as 2004, or the stricter, elegant style seen in vintages such as 1999. Both absolutely have their place and at their peak produce utterly compelling wines that are recognised as world class. 2007 certainly falls into the latter category. It is full of verve and tension, with a nose of dark and red cherries, violet and lavender, tempered by fresh coffee beans and bitter strawberries, the palate quite reserved, with clear acidity and a firm tannic structure. 

It is also worth mentioning Valbuena 2010 - the little sibling of Unico - which in 2010 is absolutely delicious. Having spent three years in barrel and two years in bottle prior to release, this is the first Valbuena vintage born in Vega’s much discussed state-of-the-art winery. For a complex, layered wine with sweet tannins and bright, open fruit from an outstanding vintage, look no further.

The ensuing lunch with Vega Sicilia in the private dining room of The Wolseley really centred on two bottles; the Reserva Especial 2012 and Unico 1987 from magnum. It is a rare privilege to taste the Reserva Especial, a traditional wine made from a blend of three vintages intended to maintain a consistent Vega style. 15,000 bottles are produced each year and the blended wine spends four years in bottle prior to release. In the case of 2012 the assemblage was made up of 1991, 1994 and 1999, complimentary vintages chosen to emphasise particular aspects of the wine; 1999 for freshness and acidity, 1994 for persistence and weight on the palate, and 1991 for mature, savoury flavours. Sour cherries, strawberry, griotte cherry, violet and dark berries were the fruits, with a structure that was still lively, coiled and [surprisingly] rather young.

On to the magnum of 1987, a vintage that was cut from the same cloth as 2007; high acidity, fresh and perfumed, but as Javier explained it is also a vintage that like 1998 and 1999 can be difficult to understand. When brought to the market these vintages were nervous, tight and a little unfriendly. Time in bottle has helped them soften and put on a little weight. On tasting, the technological advances over the last 20-30 years are clear when one considers the vintage similarities between 1987 and 2007. The controlled maturity of the grapes and clearer studies of Vega’s differing soils and parcels (19 and 64 respectively) have permitted 2007 to potentially become a great wine. The 1987, although seriously complex, has a touch of the wild about it – herby, leathery and spicy, it feels a little wayward and unharnessed and the acidity is still a little high. Naturally, it does however have a very attractive core of sweet and sour cherries, raspberries, blackberries and orange peel with an iron note on the finish. There is no doubt that this is seriously good wine. The ’87 has real character, is a wonderful experience and has remained true to the conditions - and the era - in which it was grown. 

In short, both 1987 & 2007 are of the same style and similar vintages but the ‘07 feels more complete, less wild and more finely tuned – a process indicative of evolution, not revolution. If age really is the great leveller then I sense that ‘07 at 20 years old will prove to be the superior of the two. 

More so than many, Vega Sicilia Unico really does have a style about it. Across vintages the wines display beautiful aromas and purity of fruit, the centerpiece to tertiary, savoury, herbal notes that develop over time. Whether it is an opulent vintage or reticent one, the wines have a clear sense of place and the question is never one of quality. Perhaps this has become a hallmark for this iconic estate, and that which enables it to sit with the very best. 

- Mark Dearing, Buying Assistant

Mas Martinet - constant innovators
Julian Campbell - 27 February 2013

A couple of photos just received from Mas Martinet where experimentation rules and they are never happy to rest on their laurels. In constantly striving to make ever more elegant wines, one of the greatest difficulties in Priorat is the often searing heat. 

One method of countering this is to use hay between the rows. Having stuck my own hand into the soil below the hay I can confirm this basic method does indeed work - the soil is noticeably cooler below the hay than exposed. It may be old school low-tech but it is certainly effective! Note also the peculiar vine training circles which help to provide greater shade for the grapes. And their very friendly winery dogs....