Some wines are great, others simply famous. Then there are those that acquire mythical status. One of these wines is Vega Sicilia. As a fan who's long known the name, but never tasted the wine, I've often wondered why. Was it because Vega Sicilia had been the only great wine in Spain for nearly a century? (Imagine the prestige of Latour, the mystique of La Tâche and the hype of Le Pin all in one wine.) Is it because Vega Sicilia ages its wines in barrel longer (for one renowned vintage, over 15 years) than most wines last in bottle? Or maybe it has to do with Vega Sicilia's passport control policythe few visitors that the winery does allow in are required to show their passports to a uniformed guard.
Even my old friend The Collector couldn't supply me with an answer; although he will drink Pétrus and Pingus at the drop of a cork, he's never found an occasion worthy enough to justify opening a bottle of Vega (at least when I'm around). It seemed like the only way I'd find an answer was by going to Spain. I made a few calls and arranged a date. Vega Sicilia's export director, Rafael Alonso, would show me around.
Vega Sicilia is located in Ribera del Dueroa hot, dry region in the middle of Spain that looks a lot like west Texas and seems, in some ways, just as remote. (It's actually about 100 miles north of Madrid.) Ironically, Ribera del Duero was only officially recognized as a wine-growing region about 20 years ago, although Vega Sicilia dates back to the mid-1800s. For a very long time, Rioja, not Ribera, was regarded as the source of Spain's greatest reds. Ribera (Vega Sicilia excepted) was thought to produce rough, mostly second-class stuff.