Spain does something to a person. A foot on her soil, and you might as well surrender your defenses: they won’t work anymore. I’m not sure what to call it, but her mystical powers of transformation cannot be denied. Enchantment? Sorcery? Maybe a good dose of each. But what I and many other beguiled visitors have understood is that the sooner you succumb to it, the better. For Spain will have her way with you eventually, guiding you to places you only imagined, introducing you to people right out of a novel, and challenging everything you thought you knew about yourself.
During our recent #winestudio excursion to Navarra, in northeastern Spain, I had the feeling that Pago de Arínzano was yet another example of Spain working her magic on mere mortals. We spent each Tuesday night in June learning about this unique property, nestled between the vineyards of Rioja to the south, and the majestic Pyrénées mountains to the north. Until now, my experience with wines from Navarra came from copious copas of Rosado downed at chiringuitos lining the Mediterranean shores. But much like my experience with Spain herself, those four weeks at Arínzano have forever changed the way I look at things.
In the summer of 2007 I made my first trip to Spain and it changed my life. After two difficult years during which my personal life was in shambles, I felt broken and hopeless when I arrived. A week’s vacation turned into a month-long odyssey that reshaped how I saw the world and, more important, myself. I suddenly saw possibilities where there had been none, and I felt my heart re-open to new people and experiences; truly a miracle. My creative voice became stronger and pushed me to consider new paths in my professional life. I attended Spanish language courses for four hours every day. For the first time in my adult life, I brushed aside my fears and banished the echoes of “should” or “shouldn’t” from my mind. It was Creativity’s time to take the wheel and drive.
When I heard Manuel Lozada (Director at Pago de Arínzano) speak of his passion for making wine, I was convinced that he, too, had been shaped by the mysterious power of Spain. He called winemaking the “best way to express creativity” and explained further:
I’ve always liked the idea of exploring, finding other sources of inspiration and new experiences. (It is) part of my mantra for life.
Manuel Louzada, Director, Pago de Arínzano
As a child he dreamed of becoming a doctor but spent summers tagging along with his grandfather who educated him about wine and its importance in their culture. He learned to taste wine and appreciate the unique influence of terroir on its aromas and flavors. Over the years his philosophy of winemaking evolved together with his knowledge, leading him to the conviction that wine is about diversity: that there is honesty and integrity inherent in making wines that reflect where they come from, that evoke a sense of place.
Louzado launched his first vintage in the Douro in Portugal, a place renowned for its fortified wines. In his eyes, the still, red wines he made in 1996 were an attempt to “improve quality in a region not known for still wines.” Apparently he was onto something as 20+ years later, dry Portuguese wines have made quite a name for themselves. High quality and affordable prices have rendered them perennial favorites among savvy wine shoppers. These days the family estate boasts olive trees and orange groves rather than grapes, but the commitment to quality and integrity remains.
His next stop was a stint at Numanthia, located in Toro, just west of Ribera del Duero. Then it was on to northeast Spain, and the vineyards of Señorío de Arínzano, in Navarra. Tucked between the Ega River and the foothills of the Pyrénées Mountains, the lands of Arínzano benefit from cooler temperatures than most of the country, thanks to higher elevations and the forceful Cierzo wind that races through the vineyards. Winemaking dates to the 11th century when nobleman Sancho Fortuñones de Arínzano produced the property’s first vintage.
In subsequent centuries, the natural charms of the region attracted Spain’s wealthy and powerful, especially during the hot, dry summer months. Mosén Lope de Eulate, an advisor to King Juan de Labrit, chose the estate for the site of his palace. Two hundred years later, the property had passed to the Marquess of Zabalegui, who ordered a rural mansion be built there, so that he could enjoy the wild beauty of the land. Shortly thereafter, upheavals in Spanish society saw the estate fall into disrepair and its lands repurposed to producing grains.
It wasn’t until 1988 that the Arínzano Estate was rediscovered. And it’s quite a story:
Though nearly two centuries had passed since grape vines had graced the valley’s gentle slopes, careful scientific analysis of the climates and soils confirmed what centuries of nobles had learned from experience:
The Arínzano estate had a singular microclimate perfectly suited for the production of the highest quality wines. The estate was carefully replanted, matching each grape varietal with the parcels best suited for their cultivation. The historic buildings, which paid homage to winemaking of centuries past, were rehabilitated and the winery constructed, capable of continuing this tradition into the future.
At the turn of the 21st century, their Majesties the King and Queen of Spain inaugurated the Arínzano winery, and celebrated the rebirth of a noble tradition more than a thousand years old.
Señorío de Arínzano
World Wide Fund for Nature Certification
Ever the good stewards of the land, management at Arínzano appreciates that it is the unique environment around them that makes high-quality wine production possible. The acreage surrounding the vineyards supports a vibrant and diverse array of native flora and fauna. (The otters who call the Ega River home serve as friendly mascots for the property.)
To ensure that their viticultural practices furthered these aims, they cooperated with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) to create The Programme for the Conservation of Nature at the Property of Arínzano, a sustainable and environmentally responsible agriculture plan. To date, it is the only program of its kind in the Spanish viniculture sector.
The program is quite rigorous and includes the following:
- Half of the estate is a nature preserve dedicated to local flora and fauna.
- Organic viticultural methods aim for low environmental impact.
- Natural waste water filtration occurs through a series of lagoons.
- Winery was constructed with only certified environmental materials.
Vino de Pago Classification
The vineyards of Señorío de Arínzano have been classified as Vino de Pago, the highest category on the quality scale of Spanish wines. To date only 14 properties have been awarded the right to label themselves Vino de Pago, a qualification that requires documentation of a ten-year track record of consistent quality. In addition, wines must be produced from estate-grown grapes and be processed, aged, and bottled on the estate.
What distinguishes the Vino de Pago category from the more familiar Denominación de Origen (DO) system is that under the former the individual vineyards themselves are rated. In contrast, DO regulations apply to a delimited geographic area and usually include many individual vineyards or estates. One of the stipulations for a Vino de Pago is that it represent a site with unique soil characteristics and a microclimate that differentiates it and sets it apart from others in its region.
Louzada’s personal interpretation of Vino de Pago is striking:
As a Pago, the only thing you have to be aware of, in my opinion, is that you’re committed every day to a unique quality and style. I wake up every morning dreaming of making one of the best wines in the world and this is what Arínzano is destined to become.
Tasting the Pago de Arínzano Wines
You won’t be surprised to hear that most of the red wines of Arínzano rely on Tempranillo – sometimes in a blend, sometimes as a varietal wine. And each one we tried was superb! But if I asked you to guess which white grape they favor, you’d probably think of Verdejo or Viura. Reasonable guesses, but incorrect on both counts. No, the secret to these white wines is Chardonnay. I know, I know; I was skeptical at first, too. But that was before I tasted them and was reminded of Spain’s magical powers of transformation.
Here are my tasting notes from our #winestudio adventure at Pago de Arínzano:
2012 Hacienda de Arínzano Red (14% abv; $19.99 SRP)
This wine is a blend of Tempranillo (85%), Merlot (10%), and Cabernet Sauvignon (5%). Color is deep purplish-red fading only slightly at the edges. It was aged 14 months in French oak barrels, 40% new/60% second-use. On the nose there are notes of blackberry, vanilla, rosemary, and leather. Flavors reflect the nose, balancing black fruit with earthy, and herbal elements. In my opinion, a lot of bang for your buck with this wine.
2008 Arínzano La Casona (14% abv; $39.99 SRP)
Another blend, this time 75% Tempranillo and 25% Merlot. Color is deep ruby red – a bit lighter than the previous wine. Aromas of cherry-vanilla and black currant mingle with savory meaty notes. Flavors of cherry, cocoa, and dust. Tannins are smooth and the finish is long. Like the first wine, it spent 14 months in French oak, 40% new. This such an elegant wine – one that I’d be proud to share with friends but would rather keep for myself!
2008 Arínzano Gran Vino Red (14% abv; $99 SRP)
Varietal Tempranillo (100%) and what a pleasure this wine is! It spent 14 months in French oak, half new, half second-use. Color is deep ruby with hints of garnet toward the edge. On the nose I get loads of cherry with intermittent notes of hazelnut, rosemary, and roasted meat. On the palate more black cherry balanced by herbs, forest floor, and licorice on the finish. Tannins are silky; acidity is smoothly tart. This continued to evolve over two hours and was a hedonistic pleasure to consume. It probably has 5+ years to go before it’s at its peak.
2014 Hacienda de Arínzano White (13.5% abv; $19.99 SRP)
Made from 100% Chardonnay, this wine spent 12 months in French oak (30% new; 70% second-use.) It is pale lemon yellow in color, fading to almost clear at the rim. On the nose I pick up pretty floral notes and what I can best describe as Tropical Fruit LifeSavers (anyone remember those?) There’s also some lemon zest. Intriguing! Flavors of pineapple, lemon, and passion fruit abound, kept honest by the racy acidity. Texture is smooth and round, with a citrus prickle – the perfect balance. As with the Hacienda Red, this wine overdelivers for the price.
2010 Arínzano Gran Vino White (13.5% abv; $79 SRP)
All Chardonnay, baby! Aged for 11 months in French oak, 50% of which was new. Color is bright lemon yellow. Nose is a mix of citrus (lemon and bergamot), tropical fruit (jackfruit, pineapple), and chalk, with a touch of citrus cream. Very complex and inviting. Flavors follow the same lines, reined in by tart acidity. The texture is round and soft, a nice counterpoint to the tangy fruit. One of the loveliest Chardonnays I’ve tasted in quite a while.
Manuel Louzada called winemaking the best way to express his creativity. In the wines of Pago de Arínzano he has let his imagination run wild, challenging himself to break away from what is expected and chart a new path. Each year’s vintage redefines what Spanish wine can be and what it can inspire. In this idyllic corner of Navarra, humans coexist with nature, each supporting the other, painting a landscape in perfect balance. A place where creative energy is free to work its magic, on whatever project is at hand, to spectacular results. Not so surprising if you think about it. After all, this is España Encantadora, where all things are possible!
Many thanks to the folks at Pago de Arínzano, Gregory White PR, and especially Tina Morey at #winestudio for making these wines available and for creating such a vibrant and interactive wine education forum. Cheers!