What is a Vino de Pago?

May’s #winestudio — a wine education program in the form of a fun, fast-paced Twitter chat with participants tasting in their own homes— features Arínzano Winery, the first estate to be a Vino de Pago in Northern Spain.

What is a Vino de Pago? It’s a classification of Spanish wine, but unlike other Spanish classifications that encompass entire regions, like Rioja and Priorat, a Vino de Pago is comprised of a single estate or vineyard.

The classification was introduced in 2003, and it is reserved for single estate wines that are of exceptional quality. I’m having a difficult time coming up with exactly how many estates have earned the DO Pago — various websites differ on the number — but it seems to be under 20. Those estates that have earned the classification must have a history of over 10 years of wine making, have a terroir that is different from that of the rest of the region, and produce excellent wines.

Arínzano Winery is located in the North-East of Spain, between Rioja and Bordeaux. It’s in the DO Navarra region, but its classification of Vino de Pago is an indication that it stands out in the region (although this is not to say the Navarra region does not produce great wines in general — I’ve had some wonderful wines from Navarra).

I opened Hacienda de Arínzano Red 2012 (80% Tempranillo, 10% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon) about a half hour before friends came over to help me taste the wine — sharing wine bring me joy so I always invite friends for #winestudio— and it was immediately drinkable without needing aerating, but it got even better as it opened up for a bit.

The garnet red wine is fresh and full of dark berries, leather and chocolate with a nice acidity and soft tannins that makes it a no-brainer to pair with food. Winemaker Manuel Louzada suggested Artichokes with Clams (Alcachofas con Almejas) or Duck with Peaches (Pato con Melecotones), and various #winestudio participants paired the Tempranillo-based wine with foods like Manchego cheese, kalamata olives, or Spanish pork with olives, capers and lemon sauce. Me, I had a bowl of salted almonds on the table (and they worked with the wine, too). Sometimes I have the time to go all out for #winestudio; sometimes I’m glad just to be sitting down and have the wine open in time for it to start.

When my friend Teresa commented that the wine stays long on her tongue, I got excited because she had just grasped the concept of a wine’s finish. One reason I participate in #winestudio is to learn more, and it’s fun when my friends learn a little something to. They don’t feel the need to understand everything about wine like I do, and I truly believe no one needs to understand anything more than “I like this wine or I don’t like this wine” to enjoy it, but a little more wine knowledge never hurt anyone.

Someone asked Louzada what he wants consumers to think of when they think of Arínzano, and he answered with one world: Passion.

Louzada been tasting wine since he was five years old and is a fourth-generation winemaker. He says his winemaking is inspired by a quote attributed to Michelangelo, “the angel is already inside the marble, I’ve only released it.” And while he didn’t expound on that inspiration, I would imagine he believes the wine is already inside the terroir, the vines, and the grapes. He just helps it out.

We’ll be tasting more Vino de Pago wines from Arínzano on May 16 & 23 at 9pm EDT. You can follow along on Twitter by following the hashtag #winestudio. My Twitter handle is @rshreeves.

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