Last night I had the privilege of attending a tasting in Seville of wines made by the fabled winery Vega Sicilia. Vega Sicilia is Spain’s answer to a first-growth Bordeaux, with its older vintages fetching very high prices at auction. The tasting took place in the Casino de la Exposición which is attached to the Lope de Vega theatre; a beautiful setting for a wine tasting, as can be seen in the photo below, taken prior to the start of the event.

The tasting was attended by over 200 people, a record for a tasting of Vega Sicilia wines. It was led by Xavier Ausás who is the winemaker and technical director of Vega Sicilia. The tasting was organised by Tierra Nuestra, a wine company that I worked for before setting up A Question of Taste. I was waiting at the door with my brother-in-law to go into the tasting, when José Luis Becerra who runs Tierra Nuestra came out and asked us if we could help pouring wine. So, we spent half an hour working before the tasting started!
The Vega Sicilia group actually comprises 4 wineries: Vega Sicilia, Alión and Pintia in Spain,and Oremus Tokaj in Hungary. We started the tasting with a dry white wine from the Tokaj area, Mandolás 2006. The nose had opulent tropical fruit, floral and mineral notes. On the palate it showed high acidity and was slightly austere with some weight. The fruit showed through with honeyed and toasted notes.
We then went on to tasting two wines from the winery Pintia, situated in the Toro region in the province of Zamora. The principal grape variety is Tinto de Toro, a local variant of Tempranillo. Due to the hot summers, the grape has a thicker skin than in say Rioja. The first wine, Pintia 2007, has not been released yet. It was black cherry in colour with a very plummy nose with mineral and toasted aromas. On the palate it was still very tannic and somewhat astringent, but with great fruit. I think the wine will be excellent in a few years. We then tasted Pintia 2001, the first commercially available vintage. I found this wine to be a little rustic. It showed dark fruit, well-integrated oak and a mineral quality something like hot stones. On the palate the tannins were very much alive.
Two vintages of Alión were next in line. Alión is Vega Sicilia’s second winery in the Ribera del Duero region. The first commercial vintage was from 1991. We tasted the 2006 and 2001.
Alión 2006, which is still not on the market, had a nose of blackberry and cranberry fruit with evident lactic notes. The wine was medium-bodied and quite subdued with a lot more time in bottle needed. The Alión 2001 was much more evolved as you would expect. Fruit and well-integrated toasted oak with a slight farmyardy aroma (not unpleasant). A very elegant wine on the palate with fruit, tannins and acidity well-integrated. Very persistent pure fruit on the finish.

Xavier Aúsas, seen in the photo above, then went on to present 9 vintages of Valbuena. I tasted the Valbuena 2005 and Valbuena 2004 side by side. The 2005 is a more forward wine with butterscotch and herby notes on the nose as well as plenty of fruit. The tannins are already rounding off in contrast to the 2004 which was a more austere wine. It will need more time to come round but will be a great wine as will the 2005. The Valbuena 2003 gave me the impression of a wine made in a hot year, being very Mediterranean in style with plenty of herby aromas and very ripe fruit. I was impressed with the fine oak shown on the nose of the Valbuena 2002 . The palate revealed high acidity with well-integrated tannins and good fruit.
It was then on to a very elegant Valbuena 2001 which showed a very deep nose of sweet fruit and fine oak. On the palate a very seductive wine with great balance. The Valbuena 2000 was much less opulent than the previous wine but not at all austere with a long finish.
The Valbuena 1999 was a much fuller style of wine with plenty of fruit on the nose and on the palate. Very well-integrated tannins and a very persistent finish. The Valbuena 1998 had a complex nose of tobacco, leather, spice and excellent ripe fruit. Another wine with a very seductive palate. For the last of the Valbuenas we went back another fifteen years. The Valbuena 1983 was a completely different animal to all the previous wines. On the nose aromas of freshly ground coffee hit me straight away together with earthy notes and hints of old sherry. Good fruit on the plate as well as toasted aromas and distinct notes of mushroom.
To finish the tasting we travelled back in time another 30 years! The Vega Sicilia Unico 1953 was a light brick red colour with a very wide evolved rim (see the wine in one of the glasses in the photo below). The nose gave me forest floor aromas together with notes of old sherry and brandy. On the palate the wine still had very good acidity with noticeable fruit and a certain dusty quality. The wine has lost a lot of flesh over the years but is still holding up well. A fifty-six year wine was a great way to end a fantastic wine tasting.