Since its inception in 1915, the world has come to know Valbuena as not just Vega Sicilia's "second wine," but indeed a wine from Spain's first great wine estate which – in certain vintages – truly outshines its bigger (and FAR more expensive) sibling. The tale of Valbuena began on a vast stretch of barren land above the Duero River known as the Pago de la Vega Santa Cecilia y Carrascal back in 1848. The Marques de Valbuena had lost his fortunes, selling the land to Don Toribio Lecanda, who envisioned converting the nearly 5,000 acres into prime agricultural land as well as pastures for raising cattle. But it would be his son, upon inheritance in the 1860s, who would plant the first vines, launching Vega Sicilia as a winery. That son, Don Eloy Lecanda, brought 18,000 young vines from Bordeaux – Cabernet, Malbec, Merlot and even some Burgundian Pinot Noir – and planted them alongside the local Tinto Fino (aka Tempranillo). It would be the turn of the 20th century before the famous dry reds of Spain's first great wine estate would make the scene.Young Don Toribio Lecanda at first made quite a splash with his wines, selling his wares to the royal Spanish family. But this limited distribution took its toll, Lecanda eventually faced the same fate as the Marques de Valbuena, and his estate passed to the Herrero family. This marked the beginning of classically styled, dry red wines for the estate, with the arrival of Domingo Garramiola Txomin, who brought Bordeaux vinification and barrel aging to the property. With his foresight, the inaugural vintage of Vega Sicilia's Unico and Valbuena bottlings were released in 1915. The Herrero family considered Vega Sicilia their grand achievement, and once again distribution was limited – this time only Spain's most upper class enjoyed the wines. Demand far outweighed supply. Adding to the estate's growing stature, the 1917 and 1918 releases took top honors at the World Fair, hosted in Barcelona in 1929. Vega Sicilia was the king of Spanish wines.
Though the estate was vast, the vineyard area was relatively limited, with each of the varietals utilized in both releases, Unico as well as Valbuena. What distinguished the two during the 1920s and '30s was the aging process. Valbuena, with its five years of upbringing, was released sooner, and often an indicator of the quality to expect in its sibling. These philosophies changed once the estate sold for the last time in 1982.
In 1982, the Alvarez family purchased Vega Sicilia from Venezuelan businessman Miguel Neumann and expanded the vineyard size to roughly 500 acres. This still represents a small fraction of the estate's land, but after an extensive study of the various soils, the family discovered their limits. It was also discovered that Vega Sicilia's vineyards are comprised of 19 unique soil types, each of which produces a very different style of Tempranillo.
Beginning with 2010, the company now ferments each of the unique parcels individually. Further, they have identified nearly 100 plots within the parcels they utilize to build the Valbuena cuvee. These plots are also fermented plot by plot. Valbuena now has far more "shades" to its overall complexion than ever. It is more complex, complete and ethereal than many of the Unico offerings of the past. It has, in the words of Gutiérrez of the Wine Advocate, "Truly spectacular!"