Steadily, since its first vintage in 1991, Alion has been increasingly noticed by wine drinkers around the world, recognized for its unsurpassed pedigree and for its consistent quality. This quality has not been lost in the wine reviews of top publications: The Wine Advocate, Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast have all awarded scores to these wines that are well into the 90s.
While Alion is a stand-alone winery, it cannot be separated from its creators: The Alvarez family and their main winery, Vega Sicilia. Vega Sicilia is Spain’s most storied winery and up there with its most expensive. It is also extremely rare and allocations are minimal. Vega Sicilia truly is Spain’s First Growth. The estate has 1,000 acres of which roughly 250 are under vine and is located near the city of Valladollid in the Ribera del Duero Denominacion de Origen or D.O., the Spanish term for viticultural region. It was founded in 1863 by Don Eloy Lacanda y Chaves who brought over cuttings from Bordeaux of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec. He planted Tinto Fino, the local clone of Tempranillo alongside them. The winery’s reputation was sealed when the 1917 and 1918 vintages won awards at the 1929 World’s Fair. Rigorous selection and meticulous handling have cemented the wines quality and make it one of the most collected and one of the most age-worthy wines in the world. The estate was acquired in 1982 by the Alvarez family who have paid great respect to the traditions of the past while blending in some of the more recent winemaking techniques.
In 1986 the Alvarez family began the Alion project. The objective was to create a new wine from Ribera del Duero that utilized the most modern winemaking techniques employed by the best estates in Bordeaux. Vega Sicilia is all about tradition, Alion was to express the excitement of the new wave in winemaking. Whereas Vega Sicilia is usually not released for a decade after the vintage (the 2007 is currently in the marketplace), Alion is meant to have earlier accessibility, but still have the ability to develop and add further complexity over up to two decades. Alion only makes one wine, a red, from 100% Tempranillo grapes.
Alion now has 85 hectares planted to the Tempranillo grape variety. 35 hectares surround the beautiful and modern winery located in Penafiel and 50 acres are dedicated to Alion at Vega Sicilia, just down the road in Valbuena. Soil is typical for Ribera del Duero: limestone based chalk over water-retaining schist, an important feature in the hot, dry Ribera.
Wine making at Alion is every bit as meticulous as it is at Vega Sicilia. Grapes are harvested by hand and brought to the winery where they undergo a strict selection at the sorting tables. The winery has the newest, state of the art, wine making equipment. Both primary and malo-lactic fermentations take place in large wooden vats that are replaced every 5 years. Depending on the characteristics of the vintage, the wine will spend 14 – 20 months in new French oak barrels before bottling. The bottled wine is held back by the winery for a further 15 months to allow further maturation before release into the market.
The result is a beautiful and sophisticated wine, rich in texture, dark in colour, with intense dark berry flavours and a good amount of structure. We, along with many wine writers, have felt that Tempranillo can share a certain similarity with Cabernet Sauvignon. Alion demonstrates this point very well, possessing a flavour profile that brings to mind a classified growth Bordeaux from a warm vintage or a top quality Napa Cab. We had the privilege over lunch at Jose Maria Restaurant in Segovia, Spain to taste the 2012 Alion alongside the 2007 Vega Sicilia Unico. While the wines were quite different expressions of Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero, they were qualitatively at a similar level. Quite the accomplishment given that Alion is about a quarter of the price of Unico!
Below are two tasting notes we did, one for a young Alion and one for a bottle at age 14. It was fascinating to observe the development that occurs over time. As the notes show, both were delicious and it is really a case of personal preference if you prefer the bold fruit expression of youth or the more subtle, nuanced style of age. Alion does both extremely well.
Still very dark red in colour. This wine has developed a lot since we last tasted it in 2010. It has a very expressive nose of red and black fruits supported by spice, cedar, earth and a hint of vanilla. On the palate there is medium+ body and medium acidity. The mouth feel is elegant and sophisticated: not at all a bruiser but intense flavours of raspberry, plum and tobacco notes with good structure. Lots of complexity, this reminded us of a classified growth Bordeaux in its sophistication. Very long finish, this is definitely a wine to have with food. Paired perfectly with grilled steaks!
Dark red, offering a melange of black cherry, raspberry, blackberry, vanilla and spice in a fruit forward almost Napa-like style. The body is medium-full, with medium+ tannin and medium acid, that has a velvety smoothness. More modern than Unico, but still well in bounds, this beautiful wine has a long life ahead of it.
*The 2013 Alion is available at BC Liquor Stores for $145 (taxes in)