Tasting Time with Vega Sicilia

Amongst many, “Ribera del Duero” is simply a strange foreign phrase that could, quite possibly, be Spanish for some type of river.

Among wine lovers, and those familiar with Spain’s beautiful Tempranillo Grape, Ribera del Duero represents a fantastically rugged landscape that produces amazing, alternately sip-able  and thoroughly chug-able red and rosé wines.

Even better, the distance between these two groups of people seems to be getting smaller, thanks in part to a surge in promotion of Spanish wines as great values, but also because of Vega Sicilia, a world-class winery from the region that showcases the majesty of Tempranillo, and in doing so helps catapult other unique wines and this region to the forefront (aka your neighborhood wine store and hopefully your throat).

I did a series of posts on this region last year, and was thrilled to revisit the wines of Vega Sicilia and others earlier this month at the “Drink Ribera. Drink Spain.” Grand tasting.



I’d happily trade this snowstorm for a walk on this Ribera del Duero path.

In essence, what makes Ribera del Duero wines so special is that they really convey the Spanish climate where they’re grown, which can have daily temperature differences of up to 40 degrees (We’re talking burning hot at noon, followed by frosts as late as May). These differences not only let Tempranillo ripen fantasically, but give the wines the potential to age for decades, as I discovered.

To quote the Culinary Institute of America’s 1,000 page tome Exploring Wine, Vega Sicilia has been famous as perhaps Spain’s greatest red wine for more than a hundred years as  and has only improved with time.”

Our tasting started on the more recent end of 100 years, with Valbuena, the winery’s second label and compared vintages from 2008 and 1998…They went from bright magenta and fantastic to a darker crimson, and more complex Fantastic.

We moved through Unico, the brand’s more “masculine” wine according winemaker Pablo Alavrez. These primarily Tempranillo blends were from 2004 and 1994…They went from complex, dark and fruity to complex, dark, earthy and even more Fantastic.

But the real showstopper was the magnum of Unico from 1981. And damn was it amazing. After 31 long years in a dark cellar, this gem of a blend was still bright and light in my mouth.  My tasting note went something like this: “so much happening–like a drug dog sniffing through an apartment that’s in shambles–earth, bright fruit, leather, hints of baking spice, more leather?, silky, smooth, cranberry, meaty…every smell is something new!!!!!!”. Now, it took a lot of handwriting analysis to get that type-able so I hope it accurately conveys the wine-gasm that was going on in my mouth.

Like most of us, I probably won’t be sipping 1981 Unico again, but I think the experience tells a lot about what wines from Ribera del Duero can be, and provides a great point of reference:

  • It tells us that Ribera del Duero wines have FANTASTIC potential, whether they’re 5, 8, 18, or 31 years old.
  • It tells us that things are going absolutely right in Spain with Tempranillo growing and winemaking.
  • And, better yet, It tells us that if these very top wines sell for $169, there have got to be tons of them selling for less than that.

The best thing about all of this, in my opinion, is that this one regional superstar is helping pave the way for a veritable galaxy of smaller wineries–with great wines–who would remain completely foreign to American consumers without the push of Vega Sicilia.

All I have to say is Salud.

Ribera Wines Uncorked:

Laura Loves: Ribera Del Duero rosé wines like the 2012 Montecastrillo Rosado and the 2012 Tamaral Rosado. Their strawberry-scents are springtime bliss, and the light, fresh flavors are a gorgeous contrast to the traditional deep, bold flavors of oak-aged Ribera wines.

3 Great Ribera Buys: 

2009 Alidis ExpressionRobust, full-flavored fruit and a lingering grippy finish.

Bodegas Trus CrianzaBright Cherry color, ripe fruit and spice! Great with slow roasted meats.

2009 Linaje Garsea CrianzaA yummy, very traditional Tempranillo with cranberry-esque fruit flavors and a smooth lingering finish.



*Photos courtesy of GregoryWhite PR.


  • March 8, 2013
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