Given the tasting notes I've posted and my discussion of Alion on various forums, its fairly obvious that it is one of my favourite wines. It was one of the first Spanish wines I tasted and it just seems to get better and better as time goes on and great wine seems to be produced regardless of the vintage.
Alion started out life as an idea to produce a modern or Alta Expersion wine made from 100% Tinto Fino (Tempranillo) by Vega Sicilia in 1986. Well known for their more traditional style wines Unico and Valbueno, the idea with Alion was to produce a high quality, modern wine from a new vineyard site that expresses the terrior of Ribera del Duero. It was also very important that this new wine should not be perceived as a second wine of the house. In light of this, the decision was made that this new wine should not be made at the original winery and the search for a new bodega was started. The production goal was set to be around 300,000 bottles. New vineyards were also needed, so 25 ha. was purchased in 1987, about 7kms east of the original vineyards. 15 ha of Tempranillo was planted in 1988. Due to the production level required, 100 Ha. of vines would be needed.
Unable to find the required land, more vines were planted at the original Vega Sicilia site for the Alion project. So, they had some vines but needed somewhere to make and age the wine. In 1992 Bodegas Liceo was purchased (with an additional 14 Ha of Tempranillo). The facility was only two years old at the time and had all of the necessary equipment and storage to get started. However, this was not good enough for these guys and a complete refit and all new barrels were required. Continual improvement has been a theme in the bodega, with the latest addition being large French oak fermenters in 2000. While all of this was going on, the decision that the first vintage to be produced would be from the very good 1991 vintage. The new bodega was not yet available, so the wine had to be made and aged at Vega Sicilia, the production was 32,400 bottles. Released in 1995, this first release got immediate attention and started to put runs on the board. Production has increased each year as the vines matured; reaching the goal of 300,000 bottles in 1999. Alion seems to get better and better with each vintage, the wine press constantly heaps praise on new releases, with highlights in 94, 95, 96, 98 and the 2001; which received 95 Big Bad Bob points with comments like "The finest Alion I have tasted from this project owned by the proprietors of Vega Sicilia, this 2001 is a sensational effort."
Bodegas Alion make just the one wine, Alion Reserva Tinto. There is no Crianza or second wine, no white wine; the entire focus is on the single wine. It is an obsessive focus: the barrels are aligned within millimetres, the place is so clean the most demanding obsessive-compulsive would be very happy. Everything must be done just right, and it shows in the wine. Starting the process off, the grapes are harvested by hand with a minium potential of 13% alcohol. Only quality fruit is selected on the vine, and then sent to the bodega in 20Kg boxes and then further sorted. It is finally delivered to the top of each of the Seguin Moreau fermentation foudres. Each batch is then crushed directly into the fermenter and left for the indigenous yeast to do its thing. Fermentation times vary from 8 to 20 days depending on the vintage and ripeness, temperatures of the must is up to 32 degrees at points. Once fermentation is complete, the wine is kept in cooling tanks until January when it is transferred to 100% new French oak (there is a great line about the conversation between the wine and the wood on the Alion web site).
It sits in barrel for 16 to 20 months depending on the vintage. Racking is carried out as required. The wine is bottled and then stored in the bodega for a further 15-16 months that make up the Reserva requirements. Corks are a big issue for Vega Sicilia, the entire production of 1994 Valbuena was apparently not release due to faulty corks. Alion send samples of every batch of corks off for testing before they are shipped and again once they arrive. If one cork from a batch fails the test, the entire batch is rejected and the supplier foots the bill for the testing as well! It seems to work, I have never had a corked Alion.
As a young wine, Alion is very seductive with smoothness, a very expressive nose and palate and a fresh, lively feel to it. Medium to full bodied, acid and tannin make their presence know, but overall it is very balanced and refined. Typically, it has tobacco, roasted meat, dark cherry, plum and current aromas with some herbs and smoke at times. It screams Ribera del Duero Tempranillo with ripe fruit, fullness and structure. It can have a very sweet fruit component in some vintages, but it is by no means a fruit bomb, it is full of flavour and a savoury finish.
Given 10 or so years in the cellar, the fruit drops away a bit, looking a bit more refined with some bottle age characters: luxurious, silky tannins that adds great texture and an aniseed/liquorice aspect to the nose amongst other notes. Very balanced, interesting and satisfying. It is a wine that definitely rewards careful cellaring for 10+ years, the 91 is still drinking beautifully now in 2006.
I have heard many different interpretations and comparisons of Alion. Some say it is very Bordeaux like; others talk of a mix of Burgundy and Barolo. Like many things in life, wine is very much a matter of personal taste and experience. I find the nose has some similarities with Bordeaux from my limited exposure, leaning to an Italian palate. These types of references can be handy for steppng out of the norm to find something new, but this description covers a lot of the wine made in Spanish. The D.O. wines from Ribera del Duero are unique in many ways and shows that it is one of the highest quality regions of Spain. Like most of Spain, producers are taking a good hard look at their production method towards producing clean, modern wines for both at home and export. Alion is clearly one of the leaders in Ribera, prodicing very good wine regardless of vintage conditions. Overall, I think the guys and girls at Alion can be very happy with themselves. Alion is a wine that truly speaks of it origin, ages and devlops into a glorious wine and has set a very high bar for modern Tempranillo based wine from Ribera del Duero.
*The images used in this article are from the Bodegas Alion press kit
Tasting notes for Bodegas y Vinedos Alion on Tinto y Blanco: