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July 28, 2006

81 Vega Sicilia, Unico

I feel helpless. This, my first Unico, like a young old school Bordeaux--and made much the same way--is a wine with more class and emotion than flavor. Despite a beefy aroma and mild tastes of black cherry, cassis, and its seven years in old French oak, it's really the persistent length, tannin, and exhaustive spice that impress me. There's not much else here. For the first time since I started drinking wine, I'm taking a step back, going outside to think, pleading with the glass to let me through the door. I can't seem to pick my way through. But the seed has been planted. The fruit will grow.


Anonymous Michelaccio said...

This was a challenging wine to assess. Perhaps it was all the great wines we had before it that made it more difficult. I do remember reading somewhere that 1981 was considered an "off year" in that region of Spain. Whatever that means. And I do believe thta was around the time the winery cahnged hands, so perhaps this vintage was made under the stewardship of those "absentee Venezuelan landlords" folks are always referring to. Regardless, I enjoyed it quite a bit. I remember smelling blood, meeat and cardamom, along with a serious bit of funk. But I liked that. The palate displayed a nice, tangy level of acidity and touches of coffee,leather and cedar spice. To throw in a sexist comment I'd say drinking this wine made me think of the leather pants Dianna Rigg used to wear as Mrs. Peel on the original Avengers TV series. But where was the fruit? Has this baby closed down in its eight year of release or is the fruit fading. I'm betting on the latter. If I had more bottles of this wine I'd be looking to drink them in the next few years. All in all it was quite enjoyable. And by the way, doesn't "Unico" mean f**k you Bordeaux" in Spanish?

12:04 PM  
Blogger Nilay Gandhi said...

Indeed, where was the fruit? The critics assessing this wine on release (1998, I believe) found gobs of it.

1981 wasn't as much "off" as it was tight. The intense old oak aging of this wine might be what ultimately makes it so subtle today.

To clarify, the 1981 Unico is pre-globalized Unico, which is to say it doesn't see the same modern winemaking techniques of more recent vintages. I'm inclined to believe we tried a real dummy bottle, but by no means a dead one. It's Super Mario crouched down in mid-air. He hits hard when he comes back to earth.

I'm dreaming, though. There wasn't much there. Twenty-five years is a lot to ask.

12:22 PM  
Anonymous dfredman said...

Or could it be that you're judging the wine on the wrong criteria? I've never thought about Vega Sicilia being a wine that's about the fruit, but about the dirt in which it's grown. When I taste older (great term:"pre-globalized) vintages I approach the wine as I would Madiran or Cahors, a wine of its place.

Fruit can emerge from it with aeration (6-12 hours seems to work with older VS releases) but why do we feel as if we need to deconstruct everything? Do I look at a Jackson Pollock painting and follow every splatter? No, it's about the whole, and the emotion not only behind the painting's creation, but the emotion felt as I view it. Same thing with wines such as VS....it's about the entirety of the wine, where the wine is from (both in terms of terroir and the winery's history) and about the pleasure (or lack of same) one feels while drinking it.

The 1981 may well be going through a dumb phase, but I've got to believe that had it been decanted for a day or two you would have had an experience closer to the one you would have hoped for, given the price of this wine. Sounds like a good excuse to try another bottle down the road...

9:47 AM  
Blogger Nilay Gandhi said...

Great insight.

Considering how nice the structure was, and how fresh the acidity, I'm inclined to think it might be just a little dumb right now--not dead. Believe me: My heart wants this to be true.

The 81 Unico was still long and luxurious, which gives me hope that it might have some life to it. It's just rather impossible to know without trying another bottle.

So, great suggestion. If the wine is still on the market, look for another note on 750 mL in two years. I promise you that. I promise myself.

10:05 AM  
Blogger Nilay Gandhi said...

I like Fredman's comparison to tannat (Madiran). That, or Bandol, each eased of their tannin with some age are good reference points for this wine.

10:13 AM  

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