Vineyards of Bodegas Vega Sicilia, Valbuena de Duero, Spain. Photo © Cephas  Mick Rock

Collecting guide: the wines of Bodegas Vega Sicilia

Spain’s pre-eminent wine producer makes classic wines that demand years of patience, as well as modern creations that are highly expressive of the austere Ribera del Duero region

Time turns differently at Bodegas Vega Sicilia. Patience and reflection are enshrined in every barrel, every vine and every bottle. The winery takes the Spanish philosophy of mañana  to heart, and wines are allowed time to percolate gently in wood and to slumber in bottle. As a result, they are highly sought-after by connoisseurs.

Vega Sicilia is seen as the ‘premier cru’ of Spain, with ageing potential akin to Château Latour or Château Lafite-Rothschild. Collectors fall in love with the rich, powerful wines of the estate, to the point where gathering every release or vintage into their cellar can become an obsession. A pristine collection of wines from Bodegas Vega Sicilia, at the heart of our Finest and Rarest Wines sale in London on 28 April 2022, comes from the cellar of one such collector.

Unico: Spain’s most collectable wine

Unico, the flagship wine of the estate, is so named because it pioneered a unique style in the Ribera del Duero. In 1864, following a trip to Bordeaux, Vega Sicilia’s founder, Don Eloy Lecanda y Chaves, sank cuttings of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot deep into the chalky soil of the Ribera valley in northwest Spain. Local winemakers, focused on the Spanish Tempranillo grape, were shocked.

Vega Sicilia, mixed Unico magnums 1980-1982. 3 magnums per lot. Sold for £3,000 on 28 April 2022 at Christie’s in London

Vega Sicilia, mixed Unico magnums 1980-1982. 3 magnums per lot. Sold for £3,000 on 28 April 2022 at Christie’s in London

The estate has maintained plantings of the Bordeaux grapes, and Unico is a blend of Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon, the Cabernet adding weight, drive and grip to the red-fruit warmth, chalky texture and delicate acid backbone of the Tempranillo. Unico rests in French and American oak barrels for 10 to 15 years, and can unfurl and expand in bottle over many decades, thrilling wine lovers upon its eventual awakening when the cork is pulled.

Vega Sicilia, Unico 1962. 1 magnum per lot. Sold for £3,000 on 28 April 2022 at Christie’s in London

Vega Sicilia, Unico 1962. 1 magnum per lot. Sold for £3,000 on 28 April 2022 at Christie’s in London

The 1962 vintage is a sensation, being awarded 100 points by critics and capturing the hearts of collectors. The magnum releases of Unico are the most collectable Spanish wines. Every vintage has a different ‘artist label’, and only Spanish artists — the likes of Miquel Barceló and Benjamín Palencia — are invited to create them. For many collectors, putting together a magnum vertical has become as fascinating as seeking out artist-labelled bottles of Château Mouton-Rothschild.

Reserva Especial: a unique product of the winemaker’s skill

The estate’s passion for unique wines is also apparent in its Reserva Especial. Each release, in distinctive opaque bottles, is a blend of three vintages. The wine reflects the specific terroir of the Ribera del Duero, as well as highlighting the blending skill of the winemaker. 

Jesús Anadón (1956-1966), Mariano García (1966-1996), Xavier Ausàs (1996-2015) and Gonzalo Iturriaga (2015-2022) have all been responsible for releases of Reserva Especial. They have tasted their way through barrels of vintage wine, noted characteristics and then married their chosen vintages into a harmonious blend.

Vega Sicilia, Reserva Especial. 2010 release. Blend of 1991, 1994 and 1995 vintages. In original wooden case. 3 bottles per lot.
Sold for £2,750 on 28 April 2022 at Christie’s in London

Vega Sicilia, Reserva Especial. 2010 release. Blend of 1991, 1994 and 1995 vintages. In original wooden case. 3 bottles per lot. Sold for £2,750 on 28 April 2022 at Christie’s in London

The wine then spends 18 months in new oak casks, and 30 months more in old oak. Finding out which vintages are in each bottle has historically been difficult, which adds intrigue for serious collectors. The 2010 and 2011 releases, which represent the 1991-1994-1995 and 1991-1994-1998 vintages, are famous, long-lived wines.

Valbuena 5° and 3°

Valbuena 5° pays homage to the terroir of the Ribera del Duero, and particularly the village of Valbuena de Duero where the bodega is located. This wine is made from younger vines — commonly 10 to 15 years old — than those that produce Unico. Tempranillo leads the blend, with seasoning from silky, spicy Merlot. The wine is finished with five years (hence the name) in a mixture of new and old oak.

Vega Sicilia, Valbuena 5° Vertical, 2006-2011. 6 bottles per lot. Sold for £688 on 28 April 2022 at Christie’s in London

Vega Sicilia, Valbuena 5° Vertical, 2006-2011. 6 bottles per lot. Sold for £688 on 28 April 2022 at Christie’s in London

Excitingly for collectors, Valbuena 3°, aged for three years in oak, is a discontinued wine: production ceased in 1988. The cool blue label (below) is rarely seen at auction, and old vintages from the 1970s and and 1980s are now very collectable.

Vega Sicilia, mixed Valbuena 3°, 1977, 1978, 1980. 5 bottles per lot. Sold for £938 on 28 April 2022 at Christie’s in London

Vega Sicilia, mixed Valbuena 3°, 1977, 1978, 1980. 5 bottles per lot. Sold for £938 on 28 April 2022 at Christie’s in London

Alión: the definition of Tempranillo

Alión is an expression of the chalky complexity and red-fruited essence that defines Tempranillo. Three plots contribute to the making of the wine: the heartlands of the Vega Sicilia estate itself; the clay of Padilla de Duero; and the chalky soils of Pesquera de Duero.

New oak is important to the style of Alión; indeed, until 2014, it was common for 100 per cent new oak to be used. Since then, 80 per cent has become more usual, and American oak and concrete are sometimes employed to give tension to hotter vintages. Alión can be viewed as a younger sibling to the mighty Unico, but stylistic differences make for wines of singular character.

Vineyards in Valbuena de Duero, the home of Bodegas Vega Sicilia. Photo © Cephas  Mick Rock

Vineyards in Valbuena de Duero, the home of Bodegas Vega Sicilia. Photo: © Cephas / Mick Rock

Pintia: full-throated flavour

The Duero river wends its way to Portugal — where it becomes the Douro — through the region of Toro. This is home to Pintia, a relatively recent project for the owners of Vega Sicilia, the Alvarez family. Most of Vega Sicilia’s vines in Toro are on their own roots, because the destructive pest phylloxera has not invaded much of the sandy soil in this region. Thus many of the vines are 50 years old, which gives concentration to the Tempranillo wine.

Sign up today

Christie’s Online Magazine delivers our best features, videos, and auction news to your inbox every week

Subscribe

The searing heat of the region also adds weight, as well as posing the winemakers’ greatest challenge. Drawing elegance and freshness from the ripe crop is a skill of the Vega Sicilia team, which produced the first vintage of Pintia in 2001. Subsequent vintages are marvellous examples of Tempranillo with full-throated flavour.

Bodegas Benjamin de Rothschild and Vega Sicilia, mixed Macán Clásico 2012 and 2014. 1 double magnum and 2 magnums per lot. Sold for £525 on 28 April 2022 at Christies in London

Bodegas Benjamin de Rothschild and Vega Sicilia, mixed Macán Clásico 2012 and 2014. 1 double magnum and 2 magnums per lot. Sold for £525 on 28 April 2022 at Christie's in London

Macán and Macán Clásico

Macán and Macán Clásico are the results of a collaboration between Vega Sicilia and Bodegas Benjamin de Rothschild. The Tempranillo-based wine was conceived in 2009 in the Sonsierra region of La Rioja. The two wines follow the Bordeaux release system, Macán being the ‘Grand Vin’ and Macán Clásico the second wine. The first wine is aged for 16 to 18 months in oak, the Clásico for 12 to 14 months.