Wine Dinner with Vega Sicilia, Las Vegas, 2/25/2016

About last night . . .

No pictures this time, but I was in Las Vegas last night for “wine dinner” at Bazaar Meat in the SLS Hotel, hosted by Andy Myers, M.S. (wine director for all of Chef José Andres’ restaurants & the Think Food group) and Lucia Ramos Perez, of Europvin – the importer of Vega Sicilia – ably assisted by Chloe Helfand, the sommelier of Bazaar Meat.

(Note: all reds were decanted well before service, but I do not know for how long.)

We started the meal off with glasses of n.v. Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut (Champagne, France), poured from magnum and paired with an amuse bouche – their (in)famous Cotton Candy Foie Gras with crispy Amaranth, a cube of delicious foie, encased in a cloud of freshly-made cotton candy and served on a stick. I admit, this isn’t for everyone, but for me, the juxtaposition between the crunchy melt of the cotton candy, and the richness of the foie is just delightful. As for the Champagne, all I can do is repeat Ernest Hemingway’s observation, “Champagne always tastes better in magnum, but – alas! – it takes longer to cool.”

Sitting down to dinner, we began with some of the restaurant’s classic appetizers, the Super-Giant Pork Skin Chicharrón, served with Greek yogurt and za’atar spices (though this time broken up into smaller, individual servings); Croquetas de Pollo – chicken-bechamel fritters; and the truly famous Ferran Adrià Olives, Modern & Traditional – traditional Gordal olives stuffed with piquillo pepper and anchovies, and then the same, puréed and spherified.

This was all paired with the 2013 Oremus “Mandolas” Furmint, dry (Tokaji, Hungary). The owner of Vega Sicilia acquired this estate in 1993, and set about to modernize, improve and recapture the former glory this region enjoyed, but lost under the Communist regime. This wine, unusual for Furmint, is aged in French oak and definitely takes its inspiration from the great white Burgundies of France. It is unlike any other dry Furmint I have ever had, which until now have been rather light and crisp. For me, the jury is still out: the wine is still quite young and primary, but seems to show some fine potential for development with bottle age. I liked this, but there is no way I’d ever guess this was a Furmint.

The next course consisted of another three dishes: the Beef & Parmesan Grissini (raw Washugyu beef, wrapped around breadsticks and served with a Parmesan espuma, and cartelized opinion purée); the Fried Oxtail Steamed Bun (with a red braise); and one of the underrated gems of the menu, the “Beefsteak” Tomato Tartare (tomato, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, cucumber, black olive, and romaine leaves).

To go with these, the 2010 Bodegas Pintia (Toro, Spain) – produced from vineyards purchased by Vega Sicilia and made from 100 percent Tinta de Toro, the local version of Tempranillo, known for its smaller berries and thicker skins. This is a more rustic, “classic” style of wine yet still possesses a certain elegance and refinement to it; and while it will benefit from additional bottle aging, it was showing so beautifully last night. Deep garnet, purple at the rim, the wine is highly aromatic, filled with black fruits, mineral notes, graphite, and sweet cream; on the palate, it is round and supple, yet with an edge of mineral and earth to carry the ample blackcurrant and cherry fruit through to the long finish.

Moving on to the next course, we enjoyed the Grilled Pulpo a la Gallega (Galician style octopus with potatoes and pimenton) – so tender and delicious – and a Porcelet Pork Rib from St. Canut Farms in Québec and served with a hoisin-cumberland sauce, plus a porchetta-style crispy skin – amazing!

For this course, we were served the 2009 Bodegas Alión (Ribera del Duero, Spain). This estate, also owned (of course) by Vega Sicilia), also 100 percent Tempranillo – though in the Ribera del Duero, it is often known by its local name, Tinta del País – but unlike both the Pintia and Vega Sicilia itself, is produced in a more modern, riper, fleshier style (think “modern” Bordeaux or Napa Cabernet). The wine is purple-black in color, with generous, ripe fruits – blackcurrants, plums, violets – not jammy, but edges in that direction, with sweet French oak that compliments rather than dominates; on the palate, the wine is plush, velvety, and supple – generously flavored, with smoky accents, ripe, soft tannins, and a long, lingering finish.

Moving onto the next course, we had The Classic Tartare (Beef sirloin, savory mustard, egg yolk, hp sauce, and anchovy, served on a Parker House roll), and A5 Kobe Eye of Rib from the Hyogo Prefecture of Japan – presented with an Ishiyaki grilling stone, mustard frill salad and fresh wasabi. Three seconds on a side was perfect!

Here, we were served the 2009 Vega Sicilia Valbuena 5° (Ribera del Duero, Spain). Produced from approximately 80 percent Tempranillo and 20 percent Merlot, this is the kind of wine that makes all conversation at the table stop – the wine is that commanding, and yet it is inviting and seductive. Ruby-red in color, with spicy and mineral notes in a bouquet of dark berries, cherries, smoke, and toast, with noticeable yet balanced oak; there is abundant sweet cherry and black currant fruit in the mouth, coupled with vanilla, anise, smoke, spice, and some mineral accents, with great depth and a sort of restrained power; finely integrated tannins, good structure, and a long yet youthful finish. This wine – not the “second label” of Vega Sicilia, but perhaps a little brother – is truly stunning.

Next, we were served Rosemary Rib-Eye (Texas Waygu beef, Spanish-style, cooked bone-in over an oak fired grill and sliced after resting), Piquillo Peppers “Julian de Tolosa” (confit piquillo peppers), Setas al Ajillo (button mushroom caps with garlic and lemon), and “Robuchon Potatoes” (“Butter, butter, more butter, some potatoes”). Simply put: I love this restaurant!

And with this course came, at last, the 2003 Vega Sicilia Unico (Ribera del Duero, Spain). Made from approximately 80 percent Tempranillo and 20 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, and aged in both French and American oak, this is truly one of the world’s greatest wines. While the Valbuena is inviting, Unico doesn’t necessarily care if you like it, but it will reveal itself to you if you make the effort to understand. I know that sounds almost silly, but Vega Sicilia is, in some ways, like Burgundy – a lot of people when they start out don’t “get” Pinot Noir (and especially Burgundy!), whereas Cabernet is far more accessible (and obvious). This was one of those wines that you remember forever . . .

With a dessert course that included Spanish flan, chantilly cream puff, and a golden ingot bon bon, we returned to Hungary for the 2011 Oremus Late Harvest Tokaji (Tokaji, Hungary). Unlike the classic, traditional Tokaji Azsú – where the number of puttonyos (buckets of dried berries), from 3 to 6, are added to the must and indicated on the label – this is a different style of Tokaji. Not the full, rich, syrupy sweet wine, this is a brighter style of late harvest – lemons, limes, crystallized ginger, candied orange zest, and bright acidity make this wine quite lively on the palate.

All in all, a truly wonderful evening . . .


Nothing with age even from the importer?

Unico really shines with age. 85 and 66 a few months ago still tasted youthful.

  1. Importers generally do not have aged wines in inventory. If they do, it means they haven’t done a good job. Only the estate(s) would have older bottles in their libraries, or some restaurants (if they haven’t sold through yet).

  2. Older vintages which are available virtually never come from through the legitimate importer, but through the grey market.

  3. The curent vintage on the Vega Sicilia Valbuena 5° is 2010; we had the 2009 from the restaurant’s own inventory. Current vintage of the Vega Sicilia Unico is 2007; again, we had the 2003 from the restaurant’s inventory. Current vintage of Alion is 2011; we had the 2010. Only was the Pintia the current vintage.

  4. Even the 1970 Vega Sicilia Unico is not yet over-the-hill . . . yet I doubt you’ll see one poured at a restaurant wine dinner open to the public. ;^)

Very nice selection, hope they decanted well in advance. What was the damage for the night?