DRINK / Ageing aristocrat asleep in a barrel: Forget the rioja, says Anthony Rose; Spain also produces some extravagant and remarkable wines

SPAIN, to most wine drinkers, probably inspires just two words: rioja and plonk. But there is another well-heeled Spain, best conjured up in the name Vega Sicilia.

In his book, The Story of Wine, Hugh Johnson describes Vega Sicilia as 'legendary . . . a Gargantua of a wine'. It may be legendary in Spain, but it is almost unknown in this country, presumably because if we are going to pay through the nose for a wine, there generally has to be a whiff of bordeaux or burgundy in the air. But at a Christie's pre- sale tasting in 1990, British palates were introduced to several vintages dating back to the Forties. Power, flavour, intensity, longevity, structure, not forgetting price, of course: these were the hallmarks of Vega Sicilia.

When Pablo Alvarez Diaz's father, David, bought the estate in 1982, it was about as accessible as Dracula's castle. A remote property on the high, gently undulating plains of the Duero valley, 40 kilometres east of the Valladolid, it was not the sort of place you could wander into unannounced. Almost 200 hectares of the 1,000-hectare farm are devoted to tempranillo, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and malbec, plus a bit of the white albillo grape, planted in the poorer, chalky clay soil of the valley's gently sloping hillsides.

The estate was founded in 1864 by Don Eloy Lecanda y Chaves, who brought cabernet sauvignon and oak barrels from Bordeaux, establishing the unique Spanish-bordelais blend. When David Alvarez Diaz took over in 1982, old casks were replaced and the period of ageing in casks reduced.

Throughout his 25 years as Vega Sicilia's winemaker, Mariano Garcia's first priority has been to maintain the personality of Vega Sicilia, an intuitive affair between Garcia and his vineyards. Depending on the character of the vintage, the fermenting and maturing periods vary, as do the proportion of French or American oak casks in which the wine is matured.

'There are no fixed rules,' Mr Garcia says. Vega Sicilia is made only in the best vintages (bordeaux could usefully take a leaf out of that book), and in lesser years a second wine, Valbuena, is made. But, Mr Garcia stresses, Valbuena is a second wine but not a second-class wine. With little or no cellaring tradition in Spain, neither Vega Sicilia nor Valbuena are released until they are thought ready for drinking.

The owner and his winemaker were in London recently to show their wines and to announce a new acquisition: 70 hectares of vineyard in Hungary, where they aim to recreate another legend, the famous wines of Tokay.

Dinner began with the Valbuena fifth-year 1988. It was delicious with a fine, slightly smoky aroma and succulent, vibrant fruitiness, a snip, no doubt, at pounds 30 a bottle.

It was followed by the 1982 Vega Sicilia Unico. Still opaque without a trace of age in its deep ruby hue, this was a powerful, almost port-like wine with the intensity of a Chateau Latour and a backbone of iron to match. At pounds 425 a case, trade price, this means a cool pounds 60 per bottle on the shelf.

The third wine was the 1974 Vega Sicilia Unico. Living up to the Unico name, it was remarkable, bottled in 1984 after 10 long years in cask. Despite the fact that it was made in the old-fashioned style, it had an aromatic intensity and superb fruit concentration and was only just beginning to ease out of its tannic shell.

Stockists include: Lay & Wheeler, Colchester (0206 764446); Roberson, London W14 (071-371 2121); Justerini & Brooks, SW1 (071-493 8721); Harrods; Fortnum & Mason; Selfridges; Peter Green, Edinburgh (031 229 5925).

(Photograph omitted)

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Stiller as Derek Zoolander in the leaked trailer for Zoolander 2
film
Sport
footballArsenal take the Community Shield thanks to a sensational strike from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Arts and Entertainment
Gemma Chan as synth Anita in Humans
film
News
Keeping it friendly: Tom Cruise on ‘The Daily Show’ with Jon Stewart
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ensemble cast: Jamie McCartney with ‘The Great Wall of Vagina’
artBritish artist Jamie McCartney explains a work that is designed to put women's minds at rest
News
Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

    £14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

    Recruitment Genius: Network Executive - Adrenalin Sports - OTE £21,000

    £19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you looking for an exciting...

    Guru Careers: Product Manager / Product Marketing Manager / Product Owner

    COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Product Manager / Product Owner is required to jo...

    Guru Careers: Carpenter / Maintenance Operator

    £25k plus Benefits: Guru Careers: A Carpenter and Maintenance Operator is need...

    Day In a Page

    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
    The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

    The haunting of Shirley Jackson

    Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
    Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

    Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

    These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
    Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen