Vega Sicilia Wines Come to New York... But Are They Worth the Hype?

A famed Spanish wine descends on New York.
A famed Spanish wine descends on New York.
drinkriberawine.com

Spanish wine freaks have been abuzz with the news that the illustrious Vega Sicilia winery would be sending some of its infamous wines -- some of the most expensive in all of Spain -- to New York for the Ribera del Duero Grand Tasting, held at the Puck Building yesterday. Pablo Alvarez, a large, laconic man, who happens to be the son of the winery's owner, presented six wines to a select group of importers and journalists.

As the Wall Street Journal recently reported, a Vega Sicilia tasting is a rare thing. Fewer than 7,000 cases of the winery's signature wine are produced each year and only about 10 percent of those make it to the U.S. Plus, the winery holds onto its wines for at least a decade before releasing them, so the current vintage is actually a 1999. In Spain, the waiting list for a bottle is 5,000 names long.

One importer stood up at the end of the tasting and pronounced the wines "perfect!" Master of Wine Mary Ewing-Mulligan tweeted: "02 Vega Sicilia Unico amazing- dense flesh yet shot w/ electricity. To be rlsd 2012." Others were less impressed: "I don't see what all the fuss is about," said a wine writer, deeming the wines "conventional," and not particularly Spanish in nature. At $300-$400 for its premium bottles, Vega Sicilia remains out of reach for most of us. In the room next to the exclusive tasting, however, Lucia Fernandez was pouring wines from her Condado de Haza winery. Also the offspring of an important figure in the Ribera (her father, Alejandro Fernandez of sister winery Tinto Pesquera, helped pioneer the fledgling appellation in the early 80s), she comes from a winemaking tradition rooted in a hands-off approach. The grapes are grown organically and the wines fermented using natural yeasts, a process some believe results in a more authentic expression of a wine's terroir. "We use whole-cluster fermentation," she explained. "It's closer to [the effect] of crushing with the feet."

"It tastes like Tempranillo!" declared one taster, referring to the Ribera's native grape. (Condado de Haza's wines are all 100 percent Tempranillo, while Vega Sicilia's are blended with Bordeaux varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.)

The Spanish wine shop Tinto Fino sells Condado de Haza 2006 for $31 a bottle. (Unsurprisingly, it currently has no Vega Sicilia in stock.) This evening, Lucia will be pouring her family's wines at the tiny East Village shop herself. The wait for a taste isn't expected to be more than a few moments.


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