2011 Benjamin de Rothschild & Vega Sicilia Rioja Macan Clasico

Year: 2011
Appellation: Rioja
Country: Spain
Wine Advocate: 92
Red Wine
Alcohol by Volume: 14.5%
Price :
$44.95

"Putting my nose in the glass of the 2011 Macán Clásico took me immediately to Rioja, which is very good, especially for such a young wine. This is aimed for early consumption where they search for polished tannins, good acidity and drinkability. It has the telltale combination of wild berries, spices and hints of leather, showing some aniseed and cured meat notes after time in the glass. It's a delicate wine, with subtle aromas and a fine thread of acidity coated by fine-grained tannins and pungent flavors. This is accessible from today, but should also develop well in bottle, gaining in complexity. 43,190 bottles produced.

I met with Pablo Alvarez (Vega Sicilia's CEO) and winemaker Javier Ausás to taste the latest releases from their joint venture with Benjamin de Rothschild in Rioja and talk about their wines and the vintages. For what they told me, 2010 and 2011 are both considered very good, with a big jump from the initial 2009. 2012 will be in line with 2010 and 2011 and the 2013 and 2014 are much more difficult, but they are used to the difficulties coming from Ribera del Duero; they finish harvesting earlier than most people in Rioja. However they are happy with how 2013 is evolving in barrel and consider 2014 more challenging.

2011 could be in continuity with 2010: in both vintages they harvested ten years before the others. In 2011, there was rain just after they finished harvesting, so getting the grapes ripe a little earlier is key to getting quality grapes. The two labels are really a barrel selection of pure Tempranillo aged in barrique (70% new) for 16-17 months. The ones with more red fruit go to Macán Clásico and the riper, deeper, more black fruit ones make it into the top wine. The wines have a clear modern-Vega Sicilia profile, ripe Tempranillo, generously oaked, concentrated and clean; one day I'd like to taste then side by side, something I have not yet done. I believe the 2010 Macán is their best wine to date." (WA)

Winery Notes:
Owner:
Jointly owned by Benjamin de Rothschild and Vega Sicilia

Products:
Rioja, Macan Clasico ("second wine") Rioja, Macan

Size of the Vineyards:
120 hectares total, composed of multiple small plots.

Location of the Vineyards:
Vineyards are in the commune the San Vicente, which is technically part of Rioja Alta, but is on the north side of the Ebro River, and as such shares the topography and soils of Rioja Alavesa.

Soil:
Stony calcareous clay

Grape Varieties:
100% Tempranillo

Average age of the vines:
25 to 80 years in age.

Average production:
First vintage (2009) : 70 000 bottles Second vintage (2010) : 90 000 bottles When all vineyards are on stream, aim is to produce 200 000 + bottles

Vinification and ageing:
As with all Vega Sicilia projects, the commitment to absolute quality is obsessive. Yields are kept to 3000 kg per hectare, compared to an average of more like 6-7000 kg in the region. Grapes are picked by hand, and loaded into shallow 12kg plastic crates to prevent damage during the short journey to the winery. After super-gentle crushing between rubber wheels, the must goes into a combination of wooden and stainless steel vats for a 2-day pre-fermentation maceration, before temperatures rise to 28°C during a cuvaison of approximately 15 days. Malolactic conversion 30 to 50% in barrel, the remainder in tank , then 12 to 15 months ageing in barrel - extra-fine grain French oak uniquely - before selection for the first and second wine and blending. Further 2 years ageing in bottle (this is Vega…!) before eventual release when the wines are judged sufficiently approachable for pleasurable drinking.

Notes on the property:
The worst-kept secret in European wine circles for the last 2 years has been Vega Sicilia’s expansion into Rioja. Vega Sicilia and Benjamin de Rothschild began the project 10 years ago, with the discreet but steady acquisition of multiple vineyard plots from smallholder farmers. In this way, they quietly built up what is now a sizeable holding of 120 hectares, all within 10 km of the village of San Vicente in the Rioja Alta. In the true style of Vega Sicilia, their purchases concentrated on the very best ‘terroir’, with stony calcareous clay soils, complex warm and cool mesoclimatic influences, and deep-rooted Tempranillo vines of 25 to 80 years in age.

MACAN is the name chosen for the wines, derived from a traditional name for the people of this sub-region of Rioja. Each year, they aim to produce two wines, MACAN and MACAN CLASICO, “a first and a second wine following the Bordeaux tradition of classification by tasting the different lots and bottling a first wine with more potential and a second wine more expressive and easy to drink when young.” This is perhaps the most notable influence of the Rothschild family on the project, because otherwise all viticulture and winemaking is in the hands of the Vega Sicilia team.

The style of the wines is certainly not ‘traditional’ Rioja – after trials, they decided against American oak – but the style is not modern “alto espreccion” either. Perhaps the term Neo-Classical is most apt, with complex mineral-infused fruit and discreet oak influences, underpinned by a fine but firm structure. These are definitely “fine wines” in the grand European tradition, and sure to generate serious media, trade and consumer interest.