Navarra Uncorked: Three Wines, Three Styles


“How to make good wine? Get no sleep is a good start. Allow Mother Nature to take its course as opposed to trying to be manipulative.” Fernando Oliveira – Azorean Lava Vineyards


Join me if you will on a trip back in time to an ancient and independent kingdom, a place called the Kingdom of Navarra (KON) or simply Navarra, in the country of Spain. The Kingdom of Navarra as it was referred to back in the day, was one of the Christian nations to emerge in northern Spain during the 17th century. In fact, Navarra has been at the crossroads of history for more than 1000 years. In the past, the wine world regarded it as the "kingdom of pink" because of the many Rosado or rosé wines produced from the abundant Garnacha grape, but that perception is rapidly changing, as producers are eager to embrace a new and robust identity for the region, rich red wines, with depth and substance.

If you're not familiar with the region, Navarra is one of the most essential and yet relatively unknown areas of Spain. While it's known for its beauty and diverse terroir,  it offers garden variety vino-sapiens a feast for the eyes, as well as the senses and so much so for the palate as well! The wines are incredible, diverse and are home to two of thirteen Vino de Pago certified vineyards. The various vineyard sites can be found from the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains to the Ebro river in the North, squeezed in between Madrid and San Sebastian, home to Pamplona and at the base of the famous Camino de Santiago, Navarra.


Where is it? Navarra is just east of Rioja, not far southwest of Bordeaux, with links to French winemakers going back more than 800 years, when French monasteries planted cuttings from their home across the mountains. Navarra is found on the foothills of the Pyrenees, benefiting from the cooling influences at Navarra's northern edge, while on the southern end of the kingdom it has eight villages in the administrative region, which are part of the Rioja wine region. If you would like to know more about the history of Navarra feel free to click here.

Navarra's unusual course through history and its diverse topography has made it an attraction for many 'off the beaten path' travelers. Also for food and wine enthusiasts like myself, it's a fantastic destination I had the great pleasure to visit back in 2011 as part of a press trip with other wine writers and influencers. The old Kingdom of Navarra has preserved its royal roots in a rich tradition of food and wine, which makes a fantastic place for the wandering wino to visit today. Staying in Pamplona is the best way to visit many of the wineries, make an appointment, and then at night, you have the rich tapestry of nightlife activities to choose from.


Identity Crisis: In the KON they have the 'famous' running of the bulls which takes place every year in the ancient city of Pamplona. The city swells into the millions during this annual event. With an abundance of media focus on this area, nearly the whole world looking at them and yet it does not appear to have any tie-in to this relatively unknown wine region. It does seem they were missing the boat or the opportunity to capitalize on a highly publicized event, especially in the light of the fact that the KON does not have the same name recognition as Rioja.

In recounting of the story the "Kingdom of Pink" by the GMR it was speculated that perhaps this identity crisis was fueled by "individual agendas in the past, the internal politics of Navarra's grape growers and wineries held separate associations, and no one producer would trust the other." These warring factions may have held back region from early success on the international stage, but fast forward many years, Navarra is moving forward with a collective spirit of cooperation.


Working together to rebuild their identity on the world's wine stage, forging a renewed sense of vision for the future while respecting the accomplishments of the past. Part of their renewed focus is to promote, educate wine enthusiasts about the deliciously well-balanced wines of Navarra, and introduce them to superbly made, authentic wines of place at reasonable prices. If you'd like to know more, they invite you to 'like' their FB fan page, to do so click here or get to know them better through their website.

The Grapes: Navarra has grown grapes since the times of the Roman, and it's their ideal location between Rioja and Bordeaux which has encouraged growers and producers alike to combine the best of the old and new worlds in a quest for quality wines. The Navarra Denominacion de Origen [Do] allows for up to 14 different grape varieties, with Tempranillo and Garnacha (seen above) also used to produce the ever 'popular' Rosado (saignee method) leading the way at one point, in their winemaking history. But fast forwarding to the present, those same grapes, many "old vines" are produced in Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva styles and also often include Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot as blending partners. For those with a sweet tooth, Navarra also produces a distinctive Moscatel de Grano Menudo from a local clone of the Muscat grape. Also don't be surprised to see Chardonnay planted here and tasting quite delicious as well.

The Navarra D.O.: Like many wine producing regions you may be familiar with, like the Napa Valley, for instance, is broken up into smaller sub-appellations, five to be precise. Those regions are the Este3lla, Valdizarbe, Baja Montana in its northernly regions with Ribera Alta and Baja in the drier southern region. Because of the topographical diversity, there many unique and nuanced distinctions to be found and enjoyed.

Full Disclosure: I was sent three different wines (samples) for the review process, that I believe gave a great representation of the kind of wines most folks would likely encounter if you grabbed one off the shelf from your local wine shop. So without any further ado, I introduce you to the wines of Navarra, here come the tasting notes enjoy.


Ochoa 2014 Santa Cruz Estate Crianza: This wine is 100% Tempranillo (early ripening), it's fruit forward on the nose, but a bit austere on the palate. To me, it would be a great wine to quaff on a hot-dry day or as a simple mid-week quaff. A dry, but refreshing wine at the same time, on the palate I found a basket of dried plums, leather, and raspberries, attempt to dazzle the senses. Fermented in stainless with native yeast. Aged 12 months in neutral 225L American oak casks and 1 year in the bottle to develop further before release, sporting a 13.5% abv. I found the nose far more generous, but it did carry through to the palate. I scored this wine 87 points, and it has an SRP of $17 most places.


Castillo Monjardin La Cantera (the quarry) 2017 Garnacha: A fruit sourced for this wine come from a 70-year-old bush-trained (goblet) vineyard, rocking a legitimate old vine moniker. The blend of 75% Garnacha and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon is fermented in stainless steel to lock in fruits finesse, and then it's aged for just six months, in second-use French barrels. This wine is a 100% Garnacha. In the glass, you'll find a deep, bright ruby core. On the nose, slightly toasty, plum, and slight bell pepper aromas with ripe raspberry and black fruit notes. On the palate I found this wine to be soft, luxurious, complex compote of lovely youthful [but not jammy] red and dark fruit flavors, beautifully balanced acidity, a discernible terroir minerality, and firm tannins (not too grippy) and refreshing finish. I scored this wine 90 points, and its SRP is $13.



El Chaparral, de Vega Sindoa, Bodegas Nekeas, Navarra D.O. 2016 Garnacha: This wine is 100% Garnacha. In the glass a deeply plummy-black core. On the nose, pleasant well-integrated French oak  (aged in 2 and 3 yr old barrels) and toasted strawberry aromas. I decanted this wine for a full hour before dinner and sampled it with food, the wine displayed a delicious balance of plum, dark cherry, and a touch of crushed rock minerality. Chewy tannins, developing complexity, and a lovely finish which will improve with more bottle aging. I tried the wine once more the next day, and it seemed to come out its austere, shy stage revealing more flavors black currants, blackberries, blueberries, plums, wood, licorice, and structure. A well-made wine that is drinking well now, but a few more years of bottle age will help soften some of those youthful rough edges. I scored this wine 91 points, and it sells for an SRP of $14 and again decanting is recommended for maximum enjoyment.

My Recommendations: Seeing, how my thirst for knowledge of new and exciting wines and wine regions is never really quenched, tasting through these tasty examples of wine from the Kingdom of Navarra was a fantastic treat, it felt like I was back in Spain once more. That said, you would be wise to seek these wines out yourself and give them a swirl. Until next time everyone, continue to sip long and prosper cheers!

Full Disclosure: Reviewed wines are from medias sample provided (not for sale) for the review process.

All original content: Including text and photographs remain the copyright © of the author, (W.R. Eyer, Fotogui Photography Inc., and the Cuvée Corner Media Company) except where otherwise noted.


Comments

Great post on the wines from the Kingdom of Navarra - I am a fan of Spanish wines. They are a great value and so underrated - Cheers!
Jainomo said…
The Kingdom of Navarra has some long-standing traditions of breaking away from the Spanish lifestyle and maintaining their own unique culture within the country. It's a very unique province and I'm glad to hear that they're producing notable wines.
Bill Eyer said…
I just love the name, "the kingdom of Navarra" sounds like a great place, that I would love to explore this summer, as I head off to Spain for week. I look forward to giving more of their wines a swirl!
Anonymous said…
Wow, a nice write-up about a region, I was not so familiar with, but I'll seek out those wines for myself, I see a couple are available on Vivino. Thanks for the recommendations, happy holidays.

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