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mardi, 03 juin 2014

VEGA SICILIA

VEGA SICILIA: THE TOYOTA OF WINE?


Claude Gilois

This comparison may appear to be a bit harsh for Vega Sicilia, one of the mythical domains of the world, but in fact the comparison is not really flattering for Toyota either; the biggest seller of motor vehicles in the world has no pretensions of making luxury cars unlike Vega Sicilia, which could be described as a high fashion winery. Vega Sicilia is the Audi or Mercedes and even Rolls Royce for its top cuvées.

 

While Toyota is recalling millions of cars, Vega Sicilia is withdrawing 100,000 bottles of Pintia 2009.   Mr. Pablo Alvarez, the general manager, has announced that the domain will not release the 2010 vintage of Alion (600,000 bottles), the reason is very simple declares Mr. Pablo Alvares: ‘it is an error in clarifying the wine during the process of wine making which has caused the problem’.

 

I have no sympathy or time for the theories of conspiracy, but at a time when fine wine is increasingly bottled without clarification or fining so that it keeps all its flavours, it is a difficult pill to swallow. The probability of two separate domains making the same mistake on two different wines from two different vintages is very unlikely and to the best of my knowledge no heads have rolled for the catastrophic mistake.

 

Mr Alvarez adds: ‘Of course this has been a very difficult decision to take but we must show the utmost respect for our customers and we have made this decision in their interests’.    Fantastic, magnificent, magnanimous, sublime, grandiose, will claim the aficionados of the Vega Sicilia’s domains.

 

Evidently, history repeats itself for Vega Sicilia

 

In the late 1990’s, Vega Sicilia had to recall its second wine, Valbuena 1994 because it had become contaminated.  Several domains, in the mid 1990’s, some of them jewels of the wine world were contaminated with TCA, a by-product of the solvents used to treat the woodwork in chais. This contamination gave the wine a taste commonly known as ‘corkiness’.  When Vega Sicilia fell victim to this contamination, many saluted the noble gesture of Mr. Pablo Alvares to withdraw the wine from the market. However, in the last few years history has revealed a more complex pattern of events that was to show that chivalry has its limits when faced with the harsh reality of profit making.

 

In actual fact, most of the Valbuena was not returned to Vega Sicilia and it is very easy to buy this wine on the international market. If the Valbuena was contaminated, could it not be the same for Vega Sicilia Unico and the Reserva Especial, and indeed why not Alion as this domain also had a winery constructed in wood. The question was legitimate. Of course not, argued Vega Sicilia, if the Chernobyl cloud of radioactive material could stop at the French border as the French authorities proclaimed, then by the same miracle the contamination could have been contained to Valbuena.

 

However, within a couple of years following the withdrawal of Valbuena 1994, the returns from customers for corkiness were unusually high, increasingly on the Vega Sicilia Unico and Reserva Especial. It became abundantly clear that the Valbuena had not been able to fend off the contamination of the Vega Sicilia, as the French borders had done so successfully with the Chernobyl cloud.

 

But, as we have already seen, chivalry has its limits as with the contamination of the Unico and the Reserva Especial which are aged for 10 years or more, had potentially disastrous consequences not only financially but also for the standing of the domain.

 

So what happened with the contaminated wines that were released, and what happened to the wines still in barrels in the winery? The wines on the market were either drunk, poured down the sink or are still in circulation. The wines still in the winery were possibly, if not surely, treated either by filtration or more probably by absorption of the molecule of TCA on plastic films. It is doubtful that the wines, which came out of this treatment, were totally unscathed.

 

And what about Alion? Mum’s the word… but the cellar was entirely reconstructed and there are an abnormal proportion of ‘corked’ bottles on the 1995 vintage.

 

So can one train hide another? If the domains were experiencing problems at Pintia and Alion, would it not be possible that the same problems exist at Vega Sicilia? History can repeat itself especially when the actors are the same people, but with Vega Sicilia, the problem is in another dimension and the financial implications are not the same.

 

ADDENDUM:

 

Pascal Chatonnet, who is an oenologist with a world reputation, has recently identified the presence of TCA in oak barrels. Some elements discovered in his laboratory, Excell, are leading him to believe that air-drying of the wood and the maturation of wood staves could be responsible for TCA contamination.

 

Pascal Chatonnet has worked as a consultant for Vega Sicilia for many years and the domain has its own cooperage facilities. Needless to say that linking all these elements in any form or fashion is a bridge that we will not cross. 

 

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