A glass of red anyone?
Dubai; Sometimes nothing beats an excellent, smooth, red wine. I’ve shared so much food, glorious food with you over the last few months, it’s about time we got down to the business of wine. With that in mind, FooDiva recently caught up with the Export Manager for Spain’s most famous winery, Vega Sicilia, whilst in Dubai on a whistle-stop tour. Here’s what Puri Mancebo had to say.
1. How would you describe Vega Sicilia to FooDiva readers? What makes your winery so world-renowned and special?
Vega Sicilia is the most renowned of Spain’s wineries; founded as a family business back in 1864. Spaniards think of Vega Sicilia as a treasure in Spain, and are very proud of what it represents. And most importantly, it’s thanks to the quality of the wines. Our technology is very innovative, for instance, our wine-making fermentation centre is the first of its kind in the world. Vega Sicilia Unico is a wine that ages amazingly in a bottle, it improves with time…a must when we talk about great wine. Open a bottle from the 60-70’s, and it’s perfect to drink now!
2. Tell us a little about the different wines you produce.
At Vega Sicilia, we produce two red wines; Vega Sicilia Unico and Valbuena, both date back to 1864. Valbuena is released in its fifth year and Unico in its tenth. It is very unusual nowadays to find wines released so late, but it is part of our tradition and our customers love it. The wine is either ready to drink or ready to age when you buy it; it just depends on how people prefer to enjoy them. So many wines are released far too young, all those harsh tannins are a big no-no! Wine needs to age in a bottle to round the tannins, integrate the aromas of fruit and wood, and ultimately refine the wine. But it is also true that not every wine will improve via this process. Vega Sicilia owns two other wineries in Spain, Alion in the Ribera region and Pintia in the Toro wine region; both wines are 100% tempranillo, the most significant Spanish wine.
3. What makes Spanish wines stand out over the more world-renowned French wines?
What makes wine great and interesting is its diversity. Diversity of grape varieties, terrain, climate, people, savoire faire, tradition, culture, countries and history; all of these and more define a wine. It’s funny you should ask this question, as Vega’s grapes are 80% tempranillo, and 20% are from a variety of French grapes. Historically, there was a link with Bordeaux, but the tradition is totally different. Spain does have its unique characteristics, as the other wine-producing countries also have. Obviously history and tradition is an advantage in Europe versus the so called ‘New World’, and France especially was the first country to develop the wine industry as we understand it nowadays. Spain as a country has invested the most lately in the European wine sector. We have very modern, new wineries, as well as the older and more traditional ones – this contrast is a true reflection of Spain today.
4. Do you follow any sustainable practices in your vineyards?
Our agricultural policy depends a lot on location. We have four wineries in three wine regions and each one has different characteristics. For example, in Ribera del Duero in the north of Spain, due to the high altitude, continental climate and low rainfall, the air is very dry. This clime is very healthy for vineyards, and we don´t need to use any chemicals or fertilisers at all. On the other side, Tokaj in Hungary is more humid so we need to treat the vines to avoid disease and to keep them healthy.
5. How important is the UAE market to Vega Sicilia’s export business?
Thanks to the many four and five stars hotels in Dubai, and the promising future for the hospitality industry in Abu Dhabi, we expect the UAE to be a growing market. The country’s excellent restaurants and gastronomic appreciation help develop the wine culture. We are participating at Gourmet Abu Dhabi; Pablo Alvarez, the owner of the winery is hosting a wine dinner at the Shangri La’s Pearls & Caviar restaurant on February 13th.
6. What dishes would you pair Vega Sicilia Unico with?
The classical match for Vega Sicilia Unico is baby lamb. Perfect for an elegant, complex and gentle wine; food should never overpower the wine.
7. What should someone look out for when tasting a wine?
Aroma, structure and tannins.
8. What is the optimum shape of glass for wine?
In Riedel, every grape variety has a different glass for a reason. In any case, glasses with large round or long ‘balloons’ as I like to call them, are always welcomed. After opening a bottle, the wine needs to make contact with air (oxidation) to help develop the aromas. One should also only fill a large glass to one third, to allow the air to permeate the rest of the glass.
9. How did you get into the winery industry? How long have you worked at Vega Sicilia?
I celebrate a decade with Vega Sicilia this year! I started back in 2001, in Hungary, taking care of the European markets for Oremus, our winery in Tokaj. Wine has always been a passion for me, not just a career; I think I made a good choice!
10. Why do you love your job so much? Anything you hate?
Taking care of the international markets at Vega Sicilia is a full time job. We export to 110 countries and I visit the majority of them every year. If you like people, food, wine and travelling, it’s the perfect job! Of course I hate things like delays at airports, spending long journeys alone…when you travel so frequently it’s difficult to have a life at home. But at the end of the day when I balance it all out, I’m very happy and that keeps me going.
And now for the news you don’t want to hear…Vega Sicilia Unico retails in the U.A.E at approximately AED 1,500 – definitely a special occasion tipple. Or alternatively sign up for the Gourmet Abu Dhabi dinner on February 13th – there’s still a few places left, so go on, treat your Valentine!
You can buy the wine at Dubai International Airport’s Le Clos retailer. And guess what, I’m about to let you in on one of Dubai’s best kept secrets; buy your wine on departure and Le Clos will have it ready for collection on your return. Now that’s service. If you’re not travelling, some MMI stores do stock it; as it’s a prestige wine, they sell it by allocation, which means that customers can have a certain amount of the new vintage every year. Needless to say Burj Al Arab sells Vega Sicilia’s wines, as do Zuma, Park and Grand Hyatt, Armani, Towers Rotana, Movenpick JBR, Fairmont, Media Rotana and Ritz Carlton.