Few wines have a history as distinguished as that of Vega Sicilia. Founded in the 1860’s, its reputation on its flagship vintage has for more than 100 years produced two great wines, each appropriately named "Único."

The more famous of these wines is of course the single-vintage version, which is still made much as it was a half century or more ago: a selection of only the best vintages released after a decade or more of age. Made from at least 80% Tempranillo and small amounts of Bordeaux varietals, it is a wine of epic proportions, known for great restraint in its youth but great cellaring potential.

There is a second "Único," the mythic Reserva Especial, which has always been a blend of two or three vintages selected from Vega Sicilia's cellar. It is a throwback to the early 1800s, when single-vintage wines were virtually unknown in Spain.

A Historic Estate

It was at Vega Sicilia in Ribera del Duero, two hours from Madrid, that Tempranillo proved its potential for greatness. When the estate's original founder, Don Eloy Lecanda Chaves returned from France with cuttings of Bordeaux varietals, he planted them alongside the indigenous variety, then known simply as Tinto del Pais, or “Country Red”, but today known as Tinto Fino or Tempranillo. Surprisingly, it was the Tempranillo that produced the superior wine.

By the early part of the twentieth century, word had spread about this remarkable wine from Northern Spain. And when the 1917 and 1918 famously took prizes at the 1929 World’s Fair in Barcelona, its reputation soared. The owner’s insistence on deciding who should get his wine spurred its long run of mystery and exclusivity. Eventually, the wines were made available to the world, and Vega Sicilia became an enduring symbol of taste for upper class Spaniards living throughout the world.

 In 1982, the estate was purchased by the Alvarez family, who brought with them modern business acumen and vast resources but also a great respect for Vega Sicilia’s winemaking traditions. And indeed much of Vega Sicilia’s global reputation was forged in the 1980s and early 1990s, a time of abundance for lovers of the estate’s wines. Classic single-vintage Únicos like the 1962, 1964, 1966, 1968, 1970 and 1975 were all readily available. Rarities like 1942 and 1948 were there for the asking, and the estate’s other wine, Reserva Especial—made from a blend of vintages—included wines up to 35 years old.

Production has also grown significantly. In the vintages leading up to the 1960s, an average of 1200 cases of the vintage Único were made whenever the year was considered worthy. Today, production averages about 8000 cases.

There has been similar growth in Reserva Especial production. Between 1978 and 1982, fewer than 500 cases were made a year. For the rest of the decade of the 1980s, production varied between 700 and 1000 cases. Today, nearly 1500 cases of Reserva Especial are made. That is still not much wine to satisfy the world.

Today’s Market

Today, the market for Vega Sicilia is one of scarcity and increasing demand. The great, old vintages of Único that were so easy to find in the early 1990s have largely vanished from the market and their prices have soared. Even recent vintages of Único—released only when they are about ten years old—bring $300 to $400 a bottle, as Vega Sicilia becomes better known to a new generation of wine drinkers. while the estate’s fine third wine, Valbuena, has acquired a loyal following of its own.

Vega Sicilia’s growing fame and desirability is testament not only to the estate’s enduring legacy but to the world’s craving for wines of history and noble bearing. Vega Sicilia's vintage Único, Reserva Especial and Valbuena are such wines.

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Wine barrels in a cellar

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