Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Arínzano: Crafting Wines From The Zenith Of Spain

I travelled thousands of miles to Spain and traversed five different wine regions. Yet in my travels, one prize eluded me – until now – a taste from Spain’s highest wine classification.

Climbing The Spanish Wine Pyramid

When I was studying for the Certified Specialist of Wine designation, each country’s wine laws were presented as a pyramid. Basic table wine was the broad base and as you moved up the pyramid became more narrow and the quality improved. At the top, the geographic area and often the type of grapes and production method are tightly controlled.

Studying the section on Spain, I was surprised to hear about Vino de pago. What the heck was this? I crisscrossed the country and never saw a bottle of pago.

Thanks to a recent Wine Studio education program, I was able to sample the elusive pago wine. My search had a delicious and satisfying ending!

Pago Perfection

Vino de pago, or “estate wine” is a category established to recognize specific single vineyards of distinction that produce excellent wine. It is awarded only to estates that exhaustively demonstrate not only an outstanding and unique climate and terroir, but also winemaking that turns these inherent qualities into extraordinary wines.

Arínzano is the first estate in the north of Spain to receive this honor.

Arínzano is located in the northeast of Spain, between Rioja and Bordeaux (not shabby neighbors!). The Señorío de Arínzano estate has been recognized for the excellence of its vineyards since the 11th century, when the noble Sancho Fortuñones de Arínzano first produced wines on the property. Alas, over time the estate fell into disuse.

The estate was rediscovered in 1988 and analysis confirmed that the climate and soils were perfect for producing exceptional wines. At the turn of the 21st centuries, the King and Queen of Spain rededicated the Arínzano winery, reinstating a tradition more than a thousand years old.

Verdict Of The Glass

In pursuit of our wine education, we sampled two Arínzano bottles. We started with the 2012 Hacienda de Arínzano Tinto and then the 2008 Arínzano La Casona.

The Hacienda is 80% Tempranillo, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot. We paired this with a Spanish style pork entree with an olive, caper and lemon sauce.

Smooth and elegant, this wine is aged 14 months in French oak. There are no harsh tannins, which you may encounter in Rioja, which favors heavy oaking in American barrels. The Hacienda also offers savory flavors which I dubbed “herbalicious.”

Very surprising to me was the price point. At $19.99, it delivers satisfaction of a wine two or three times the price.

A week later Green Dragon was cooking again, this time serving up braciole with black bean quinoa with the 2008 La Casona.

In the glass it is garnet in color with a clear edge. La Casona is 75% Tempranillo with 25% Merlot. The medium-bodied blend exudes elegance and harmony.

On first approach, there is a bit of heat that rapidly shifts to a silky body. On the palate there is tart cherry, with wafts of mocha and a touch of vanilla. The fruit stands front and center in a way that testifies to the skill of the winemaker.

A wine like this makes dinner an a memorable experience. At about $35, it is an excellent value for one of Spain’s top tier wines.

At last count, there were only 14 pago estates in Spain. This is a very small circle of “grand cru” vineyards. Arínzano delivers the quality that shows why this designation is so exclusive.

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