In his previous job, winemaker Manuel Louzada had a relatively easy task: Don’t mess up the quality at Numanthia, Toro’s leading winery. In July 2015, he took on a bigger challenge, at Arinzano, an underperforming producer in an isolated terroir.
Located in the Navarra region of north-central Spain, Arinzano occupies a cool Pyrenees Mountains valley bounded by the Ega River; its vineyards climb to nearly 1,600 feet above sea level.
The estate has deep roots, boasting an 18th-century manor and a 16th-century tower. In 1988, the Chivite family, among Navarra's leading wine producers, purchased nearly 900 acres, planting more than 400 acres to vines—mostly Tempranillo, along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay. In 1998, the family commissioned renowned Spanish architect Rafael Moneo to build a modern winery.
“Most of Navarra has a Mediterranean climate,” Fernando Chivite told me when I visited Arinzano in 2003. “We wanted to make more elegant wines, and so we looked for a cooler region. We found it here.”
In this rugged, wild landscape, the bodega has partnered with the World Wide Fund for Nature to encourage biodiversity and sustainability. The Moneo winery fits in well, with clean lines and local materials grounding it among the historical buildings.
In 2007, Arinzano earned the designation DO Pago, a legal classification given only to estate-grown and -bottled wines and meant to be the highest rung in Spain’s quality ladder.
I reviewed the Arinzano Vino de Pago Gran Vino 2008 on its release in 2014, finding it well-integrated but rather austere (87 points, $125).
The wine disappeared from my radar as the Chivite family suffered from illness and internal struggles. Then, last summer, the SPI Group, built on Stolichnaya vodka, acquired Arinzano for its fine-wine division, which already included Achával-Ferrer in Argentina and a minority partnership in three of Frescobaldi's Tuscan wineries—Ornellaia, Luce della Vita and Castelgiocondo.
SPI immediately hired Louzada as CEO of the wine division, with direct responsibility for Arinzano. I caught up with him last week to taste some of the wines and talk about his challenge.
“I saw the property, I saw the potential, but I knew there was a lot of work to do,” he told me.
Louzada is releasing selected lots from the estate’s inventory. Hacienda Red 2011 ($25), a Tempranillo blend he found in stainless tanks, is thick and meaty, still quite fresh. He is re-releasing the Gran Vino 2008 ($100), which is more expressive now, with firm acidity that keeps it lively.
I was impressed by two Chardonnays. The Hacienda White 2014 ($20) is polished and lively. The Gran Vino White 2010 ($80), barrel-fermented and aged for 10 months in new French oak, is complex and expressive.
“For me, the spine of all these wines is elegance,” Louzada said, “thanks largely to the cool climate.”
Arinzano remains a sleeping beauty, its potential largely a matter of conjecture at this point. Louzada believes he can coax great wines from the estate. I look forward to tasting the results of his efforts.