Mendoza, Argentina—The owners of Viña Alicia don't seem terribly interested in walk-up visitors.
Their winery is quite anonymous. There's no sign out front. Not even a street address, as I recall. Were it not for the fact that my driver knew directions, I'm sure I would never have found it. But I'm glad I did.
The Arizu family is certainly friendly enough, and a winemaking family of great distinction. Classy is a word that comes to mind.
The wines were excellent (all in the very good to outstanding range) and this visit provided me with one of those wine experiences we all prize: an introduction to great wine where you least expect it. In this case, Nebbiolo (which winemaker Rodrigo Arizu discusses in the video below).
Inside the walled area is the Arizu's family winery, named after the matriarch, Alicia Mateu Arizu, who comes from a long line of winegrowers. She is the wife of the well-known winemaker Alberto Arizu (winemaker at Luigi Bosca). Their youngest of three sons, Rodrigo, 37, is the winemaker and has a well-earned reputation for high-quality wines.
Founded in 1996, the winery has two vineyards (San Alberto and Viña Alicia), from which it makes 7,000 cases a year, 4,000 of which are sold in the U.S.
Rodrigo poured his lineup of wines, all from the family's vineyard in the Luján de Cuyo appellation, a consistently well made and creative mix of traditional Malbecs along with blends, both white and red. Malbec is the flagship wine, Rodrigo said, "but we want people to know that we can make excellent wines that people can't imagine [grow here]."
The first wine he poured, the 2010 Tiara Luján de Cuyo San Alberto ($30), is a blend of three grapes, Riesling, Albariño and Savagnin; Savagnin is apparently only grown here by Arizu. It's difficult to grow whites in the area because of the heat. Yet this wine offered fresh citrus blossom scents with a dash of sweetness from the Riesling and acidity from the Albariño.
The 2008 Malbec Luján de Cuyo Paso de Piedra ($19) impressed me with its rich black and wild berry flavors, licorice and spice, ending with supple tannins. It showed more depth than the companion 2008 Paso de Piedra Cabernet ($19), a well-balanced wine with a dash of herb and sage mixed with ripe berry. My preference for Malbec over Cabernet was typical of my experience when comparing the two wines from the same producer.
The 2008 Malbec Las Compuertas ($30), was very complex, subtle tiers of berry, dried, roasted herb, tobacco and black licorice, ending with a pebbly finish.
Next came the 2007 Morena Luján de Cuyo ($30) features five clones of Cabernet and two of Cabernet Franc, a shade drier and less complex than the prior wines. The 2008 Syrah Luján de Cuyo is beautifully focused, rich, deep and full-bodied, with roasted herb, dried berry and a long persistent finish.
The 2008 Malbec Brote Negro Luján de Cuyo ($90), from 100-year-old vines, was the darkest, richest and densest, with tiers of black and wild berry, black licorice and mineral. Black licorice is almost always present in Argentinean Malbec, irrespective of where it's grown.
A 2007 Cuarzo, Petite Verdot, Grenache and Carignane, showed Petite's unyielding firmness and color.
I was surprised at the end to learn of Nebbiolo, which the family brought from Northern Italy. Nebbiolo rarely shines outside the foggy environs of Barolo and Barbaresco (Nebbiolo is said to get its name from the area's famous fog, nebbia).
The 2006 (about $80) is smooth and supple, aged briefly in used barrels, with classic wilted rose, wild raspberry and spicy, tarry touches. It is, according to Rodrigo, the only Nebbiolo grown in Argentina.
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