At that time, winemaking in this stretch of the Duero Valley was largely domestic in scale and artisanal in style: What Don Eloy succeeded in doing was actually far more significant than producing a decent pastiche of a French wine type. He discovered that, when given the same care and attention as his imported Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, the local indigenous grape (known somewhat dIsparagingly as Tinto del Pais - "Country Red") could produce wines of similarly peerless quality. In fact, in dry years, Tinto del Pais did rather better than the foreign imports. Today we know Don Eloy's estate as Vega Sicilia and the Tinto del Pais variety - which is also known as Tinto Fino - as Tempranillo. Don Eloy's success led other growers and winemakers to the area, what they found was a soil structure that could have been purpose-built for vine-growing, the bedrock is the same schistose sub-stratum that outcrops in the vineyards of Priorat in the east and the Port vineyards of the Douro in the west. Above this, the carbonate sub-soil is rich in gypsum and trace elements, but the main factor is the high level of active chalk, which is so prevalent in some areas (notably around the town of Pesquera) that distant ploughed fields seem to have a light coating of snow upon them.
Given such natural advantages and Don Eloy's hard work, it is surprising to learn that, for the first 18 years of its existence, wine from Vega Sicilia was classified merely as table wine - despite the fact that it commanded the highest prices in Spain. Only consistent work by other bodegas in Ribera del Duero finally won the DO for the region in 1982.
The Alvarez family acquired Bodegas Vega-Sicilia in 1982. Vega Sicilia is unquestionably a unique wine, and one of the great Spanish classics. Its personality not only comes from the maximum quality of the grape and the rigour involved in its manufacture, but also, from the care for detail that the Alvarez family has succeeded in transmitting to the wines. From a universal perspective, the particular characteristics of Vega define it as a very Spanish wine and, in fact, it is one of the national wines that receives respect for its name. These wines show great elegance, finesse, complexity and the ample capacity for maintaining their characteristics in the bottle for a long time. The estate covers around 1000 hectares, of which 230 - 250 are under vines. The best vineyards are on north facing slopes, while others are on the alluvial deposits in the valley: in all there are 19 different soil types. The bulk of the vines are now tempranillo with some cabernet sauvignon, malbec, merlot, carmenere and a small amount of albillo (a local white grape).
The Valbuena red is aged for less time than the Vega Sicilia Unico. It is a wine that comes from the younger vines and, it is mostly made with the varieties of Tempranillo and more Merlot than Cabernet Sauvignon (also some Malbec). Once the process of fermentation has ended, the wine spends 5 months in large capacity wooden vats (20,000 litres.). The wine is aged in new barrels, 60% American oak and 50% French for 15 months. Afterwards aged in semi-used barrels for 4 months and finally again in the large-capacity wooden vats for 3 months until bottling It has the garnet cherry red colour of its elder brother, with a hint of ripe red fruit, on the palete it has less structure that the Vega Sicilia Unico.
This wine has no vintage, as it blends harvests, and is representative of the more stable concept of Vega Sicilia. With this wine, the winery seeks to continue a very old Spanish custom and bring together the balance of different vintages. Traditionally in Spain, the few wineries that bottled their wines (most sold them from cask) made two types of wine with each harvest: that of the current year, and another wine without a specific harvest, which was called 'Riserva Especial'. It was the blend of wines from the best harvests, which came to be the most representative wine of the winery. It is made from Tempranillo (80% on average), Cabernet Sauvignon and a little Merlot. It usually aged for 10 years before release.
This is the reference wine of Vega Sicilia, although it shares its special character with the rest of the wines from the winery. It comes from the older vines from the estate and is made with Tempranillo and more Cabernet Sauvignon than Merlot. Once the process of fermentation completed, the wine remained in large-capacity wooden vats for 15 months. It then matured for 23 months in new barrels, 15 months in semi-new barrels and 24 months in large-capacity wooden vats. The remaining time is spent in bottle until it is released. It has an intense ripe cherry colour, the aroma has hints of toast from the wood, and touches of hazelnut from its oxidative evolution from its years in the cask. This is a pedigree wine with a long, lasting taste.