Wednesday, April 12, 2017
Winemaker Dinner with Vega-Sicilia Owner Pablo Álvarez in Washington DC, USA/ Spain
Pablo Álvarez, General Manager and Co-owner of Vega Sicilia, Spain's "Frst Growth" and most prestigious wine estate, was in town (Washington DC) to present his wines. There were several winemaker dinners with him during his visit, including at the Taberna Del Alabardero, Washington DC's if not the USA's leading Spanish restaurant, at the Metropolitan Club, one of Washington DC's top clubs, and at the Navy Army Country Club in Arlington, next to Arlington Cemetary and the Pentagon. We attended the latter one and were privileged to share the table with Pablo
The Álvarez family acquired Vega Sicilia more than 30 years ago. In addition to Vega Sicilia, the Álvarez family also owns Alion (also in Ribera del Duero), Pintia (in Toro) and Tokaj Oremus (in Hungary) and co-owns Bodegas Benjamin de Rothschild & Vega Sicilia.
It all started with Pablo Álvarez's father, David Álvarez, almost a century ago. Born in a humble village of 600 people in northwestern Spain a few years before the country’s civil war, David Álvarez, built a small janitorial shop into Grupo Eulen, a multinational business services empire that today has 82,000 employees in 14 countries and almost $2 billion in annual revenue. The Eulen Group is a market leader in the provision of cleaning, security and other services to companies. Along the way, David Álvarez became one of Spain’s richest men, and became the owner of Vega Sicilia, Spain’s most storied winery.
David Álvarez died in 2015. During the last years of his life, David Álvarez and five of his seven children were locked in a pitched succession battle full of lawsuits and nasty accusations.
(Barry Brothers and Rudd)
Vega Sicilia, Spain's "first growth"; and most prestigious wine estate, is located in Ribera del Duero, beside a highway east of Valladolid. The estate covers around 1000 hectares, of which 230 - 250 are under vines. It was founded in 1864 by Don Eloy Lecanda y Chaves, who arrived from Bordeaux with cuttings of local grapes (Cab. Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec) and planted them, together with Spain's signature grape Tinto Fino (clone of Tempranillo) in the arid Ribera soils.
The winery begun building its formidable reputation after 1903 under the ownership of Antonio Herrero, winning a number of awards, and enjoying an international distribution. The estate changed hands several more times before its acquisition by the current owners, the Alvarez family, in 1982.
Vega Sicilia has founded its success on its meticulous wine-producing practices: In the vineyard it applies low yields, aided by green harvesting, and a painstaking grape selection. In the winery, wines undertake a complicated series of rackings from huge barrels to new and old oak. Despite the very prolonged barrel ageing, e.g. the 1970 Unico has over 16 years, the wine flavours are never dried out or overly oaky when mature, which is compelling evidence of the superb quality of its raw materials.
The Vega Sicilia range includes 3 cuvees: Unico (";unique";) is the flagship, followed by Reserva Especial a blend of top vintages, both made up of Tinto Fino ( 80%), Cab. Sauv and little Merlot, and traditionally of 10 years ageing. Nowadays the wine maker, Javier Ausas ages the Unica wines for only 5-6 years, before bottling.
Valbuena is made from younger vines, and in years when Unico is not produced grapes normally destined for Unico will go into Valbuena. It is only released after 5 years' ageing. Spain's "Chateau Latour" has illustrious history, a sense of place, immense respect for tradition and immaculate winemaking. It has laid the foundation for what has become one of the best wine-making regions in Spain, Ribera del Duero.
Pablo Álvarez Mezquiriz (Bilbao, 1954) is the CEO of Tempos Vega Sicilia. He is the owner, along with his siblings, of El Enebro, the equity company of the Álvarez family and is the current Chair of Europvin, which represents Europe's best wine portfolio.
He completed his upper secondary studies at schools in Bilbao and Gijón, graduated in Law from the Centro de Estudios Universitarios de Madrid and holds a Diploma in Corporate Legal Advice from the Madrid Business Institute.
Pablo Álvarez held different posts at Eulen, where he was Director from 1980 to 2009. He was appointed as the General Manager of Bodegas Vega Sicilia in 1986 and CEO of that company in 1990, a post that he continues to hold.
During the thirty years he has been at the helm of Vega Sicilia, Pablo Álvarez has turned that winery into a unique group of wines that is renowned worldwide. He has notably improved the quality of the wines, restored the vineyards for the future, set up four new wineries - Alión, Pintia, Oremus and Bodegas Benjamin de Rothschild Vega Sicilia - and has driven the growth and international expansion of all their brands.
TEMPOS Vega Sicilia
TEMPOS Vega Sicilia consists of 5 companies (Bodegas Vega Sicilia S.A, Bodegas y Viñedos Alión S.A., Bodegas y Viñedos Pintia S.A., Benjamin de Rothschild & Vega Sicilia S.A. and Tokaj-Oremus Kft.), the first four in Spain and the fifth in Hungary. It was set up in 1982 by the Álvarez family, when it purchased the legendary winery of the Ribera del Duero. The other companies would be added down through the years.
Winemaker Dinner with Pablo Álvarez
Lettie Teague has written a very nice article about Tempos Vega Sicilia (Gambling on Vega) in Food and Wine. I am quoting extensively from this article. Also, I added the wine-searcher average prices in US$.
Chef's Amuse Bouche
Chef's Amuse Bouche: halibut crudo, vanilla bean, arbequina olive oil, pickled apple salad, espellette peper
Oremus Tokaji Mandolas Furmint Dry, Hungary 2014 (US$16)
Lettie Teague, Gambling on Vega, Food and Wine: "The first wine we will drink is from our new winery in Hungary," Mr. Alonso announced. He carried six bottles; three appeared to be Hungarian. Mr. Alonso was very excited about the Hungarian project, Oremus. The first wine was a fairly rich, full-bodied white made from the Furmint grape. It cost only $7 a bottle, Mr. Alonso announced, fairly chortling at the figure (unexpected enthusiasm from a man representing one of the world's costliest wines).
Creamy Poached Garlic Soup: chive buttermilk royale, marcona almond relish, micro herb salad, black garlic
Bodega Pintia Toro Tinto, 2011 (US$40)
Grilled Octopus: confit peewee potatoes, squid ink aioli, lomo, pimenton-preserved meyer lemon vinaigrette
Macán Tinto Rioja 2011 (US$55)
Barry Brothers and Rudd: Macan is the result of a unique new partnership between Vega Sicilia and Benjamin de Rothschild born out of a meeting between Pablo Alvarez and Benjamin de Rothschild in 2003. At that time Benjamin was looking for help to invest and produce wine in Spain and Pablo agreed, not to help but to become a joint partner in a brand new venture.
The new venture was christened BR&VS and the two partners chose Rioja to be its home as both Pablo and Benjamin recognised its great (still largely untapped) potential and hugely admired many of its wines. It took more than a few years to find and buy the right vineyards, amidst much secrecy to avoid speculation! Once the very best vineyard sites had been secured, two wines were produced. In the classic style of Bordeaux, there is a ‘Grand Vin’ (Macan) and a ‘Second Wine’ (Macan Clásico).
The philosophy of Macan is to make a wine reflecting a particular place. That place in question is San Vicente de la Sonsierra in Rioja Alta. Currently BR&VS own 80 ha of vineyards but only produce wine from 50 of them. It’s worth noting these 80 ha were purchased from 70 different owners! BR&VS are not looking to make a traditional Rioja - Macan and Macan Clásico are not blends of various terroirs but rather of just one particular terroir.
Locals would say that Macan is the sort of wine Rioja used to make in the 60s and it should not be considered ‘modern’ as such. BR&VS are not, however, following the traditional style of Rioja ageing and are not using the Crianza – Gran Reserva scale. They wanted the freedom to do what they feel is best for their wines, for instance they have decided to use more elegant Burgundian oak for the ageing. Tempranillo in Rioja is more delicate and therefore doesn’t need too much new oak.
Both wines therefore spend 12 months in 50% new and 50% 1 year Burgundian oak. Rather than trying to fit Macan into Rioja, winemaker Javier Ausas is looking for individual expression but also for Macan to clearly fit into the Vega Sicilia family of wines.
Serrano Crusted Saddle of Rabbit: herb mousse, red wine braised rabbit croquette, escargot-saffron risotto, parseley puree, puffed rice, chorizo oil
Vega Sicilia Valbuena 5 2011 (US$111)
Lettie Teague, Gambling on Vega, Food and Wine: Three wines (all red) are produced under the Vega Sicilia label, including, in order of complexity and importance, Valbuena, Unico and Reserva Especial. All are blends of French and Spanish grape varieties from vineyards that are some of the oldest in Spain.
The Valbuena, a mixture of Tempranillo, Malbec and Merlot (and sometimes Cabernet Sauvignon), is the simplest, produced only in very good years. Made from the grapes of much younger vines than the Unico, it's aged in barrel and in bottle for a minimum of five years. Produced in much larger quantities than the Unico, the Valbuena has a correspondingly lower release priceabout $85. This is the wine, Mr. Alonso said, that most Americans think is Vega Sicilia, although it's really a sort of second label (not that anyone at Vega Sicilia would ever call it that). It's the only wine they make that you can actually find in a few stores.
Mushroom Wrapped Lamb Rib Eye: lamb rilettes agnolotti, smoked potato espuma, grilled zuchini, heirlom carrots, cipollini onion, ramesco
Vega Sicilia Unico 2008 (US$250)
Lettie Teague, Gambling on Vega, Food and Wine: The flagship wine is Unico. Once the most expensive wine produced in Spain, with an opening price of $250 a bottle, it's now second to $300-plus Pingus. Unico is made in very small quantities in only the very best years. A blend of predominantly Tempranillo and Cabernet, it's aged for a minimum of six years in barrel and four in bottle a length of time unmatched by any other great modern wine. ...
The third wine, Reserva Especial, is a blend of several great vintages, a throwback to an earlier time, when many wineries sold both a vintage-dated wine and an undated blend. Reserva Especial is produced intermittently in very small quantities. The most recent blend was introduced to market at $225 a bottle....
Next, however, came the Unico. I got to taste the highly regarded 1987 vintage, also scheduled for 2002 release. The wine immediately put me in mind of a great Bordeaux; its structure and elegance marked it as a wine of extraordinary finesse. It was almost impossible to imagine that such a vibrant, youthful wine had just emerged from so many years in a barrel. There was no doubt this wine was remarkablein league almost certainly with a First Growth Bordeaux. But was it mythical? I'd had other Bordeaux that were just as good, though no one had ever thought to call them mythical.
Apple Spice Cake: cinnamon ice cream, honey poached apples, caramel sauce
Oremus Tokaj Late Harvest 2014 (US$29)
Washington DC View
After dinner, Raymond Leon took Pablo Álvarez to the top floor of the Navy Army Country Club to enjoy a wonderful view of Washington DC.
Thank you very much Don Pablo for an outstanding evening.
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