Why Navarra is your Next Favourite Spanish Wine Region
Navarra is a land of contrasts. In the 100 km it covers, this north-western Spanish province encompasses landscapes as varied as the leafy IrriSarri’s woodlands, the majestic Pyrenees peaks and the unreal semi-arid scenery of the Bardenas Reales. Its culture and tradition are as rich as its geography and when it comes to wines, the DO of Navarra is unrivalled in diversity.
“We’re in the ideal spot between Bordeaux and Rioja”, explains Jordi Vidal, manager of the DO, alluding both at the region’s position in the map and at the climate and soil that encourage the vines to reach their maximum potential. In Navarra, the junction between Mediterranean and Continental climates is found, allowing for a range of expression that makes it a challenge to pinpoint with absolute precision what to expect.
“This is a very interesting region, with mountainous areas as high as 650 m above sea level to plains”, says Jordi, who also points out that Navarra is one of Spain’s most septentrional regions. “We are a historic wine region, with a DO created over 80 years ago, at the same time as Rioja or Jerez [Sherry]”, and while wine was produced in Navarra centuries before it was formally recognised as a DO, it’s in recent years when it has been transformed.
Over the last 15 or 20 years, we’ve seen a whole new wave of bodegas opening under the grower model.”
The eighties saw the arrival of international grape varieties such as Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to Navarra and nowadays, they coexist with local grapes, most notable Garnacha and Tempranillo for the reds and Viura for whites. Jordi adds that Graciano, a red variety often used for blending in other regions has also been brought back.
Besides the upgrades in technology and the enthusiasm that forward-thinking winemakers have given to the region, Navarra’s other distinguishing feature is its “commitment towards the environment”; Jordi explains that over 50% of the energy used in wineries comes from renewable sources and that 10% of the region’s vineyards are certified organic (the figure rises to 15 or 20% if you count organically farmed yet non-certified land).
A Region of Many Colours
Just a few years ago, Navarra was still known mostly for its famous rosados, a very distinctive style of rosé made mostly from Garnacha with the siagnée method (in which the winemaker separates part of the grape juice, allowing a higher ratio of skins in contact with the remaining liquid, which translates in stronger coloured, richer rosés).
Nowadays, about 60% of the region’s wines are red and whites make up for nearly 10% of production, leaving rosados with 30% of the share. Jordi explains that while approximately 65% of Navarra wines are sold in the domestic market, exports are growing and generating more interest.
When asked about the current trend of ultralight, white-like rosés, and the perception that wine lovers might have of darker and more intense rosados, Jordi points out that “no style is better or worse” and that thanks to the region’s characteristics, their fruit reaches an ideal level of acidity capable to provide structure to a more intense style of rosé.
Richer rosados are excellent gastronomic wines to enjoy with food, while lighter styles are often best as aperitif.”
However, he acknowledges that “some producers are moving towards less intense wines.” Another trend sees innovative techniques such as the production of barrel fermented premium rosés.
Wines from Navarra are not as ubiquitous as those coming from other parts of Spain, however, there are numerous bottles from prestigious producers currently available in Ireland. Some of the most exciting bodegas you can encounter in the island include the folowing…
Bodega Inurrieta: A young winery with an old soul. Built in 2002, the name channels the land where the family used to grow vines a century ago. They only work with grapes from their own vineyards and focus on producing high-quality reds, whites and rosados.
WINE TO TRY
Inurrieta Orchidea Blanco
€14 – Available at independent wine shops
Crisp, delicate and fresh, 100% Sauvignon Blanc. Aromas of pineapple and citrus, with a delicate grassy note and a mild vegetable background.
Four months in contact with its lees provide it with a rounder texture compared to what you’d expect from a Sauv Blanc.
Señorío de Sarría: Founded in 1953, it sits on land that has sustained grapes since the Middle Ages and which underwent an ambitious renovation in 2001. Nowadays the bodega owns 100 hectares of vines planted in sun-facing slopes, including precious old vines of varieties Garnacha, Graciano, Mazuelo and Tempranillo, which are over 60 years old.
WINE TO TRY
Señorío de Sarría Crianza 2015
€17.95 – Available at Jus Devine Wines, the Parting Glass, Blackrock Cellars
This intense red combines Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo. Ripe black cherries and vanilla dominate both on the nose and palate, with a mild note of toast and herbs. One year ageing in American oak casks translates into a smooth red that still shows the exuberant fruitiness of youth, backed by the pleasant background of sweet spices.
Maximo Abete: This winery was created in 2005. The three young and enthusiastic winemakers who run it focus on low yields and single-vineyard wines from different parcels, all with unique characteristics, including some of the highest altitude vineyards in the region, up to 800 metres above sea level.
WINE TO TRY
Guerinda Tres Partes Tinto Roble
€14.65 (on offer from €15.95) – Wines Direct, HQ Mullingar and In-Store at Arnotts, Dublin
This vibrant Garnacha is fresh and generous. The name is a nod to Yoana, her partner Juanma and her sister Maria, the second generation leading the bodega.
A homage to Garnacha, it’s bright and full of juicy red fruit flavours; cranberries, cherries and pomegranate, with a delicate touch of toasty oakiness.
Bodegas Príncipe de Viana: Prides itself on its cutting edge R+D. They aim to offer high quality wines produced in an environmentally and socially conscious way. Their project Climavin, has seen them optimising their processes to reduce water and energy consumption and to look for efficient ways to adapt to climate change.
WINE TO TRY
Príncipe de Viana Edición Blanca
€14.99 – Available at Next Door shops and Gala
This unusual white combines two familiar varieties rarely seen together: Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
An explosion of citrus fruits awaits your palate: limes, grapefruit and zesty lemons, with green apples and juicy nectarines.
Bodegas Marco Real: It was built in the eighties when Antonio Catalán, founder of the NH Hotel Group, decided to create a winery that would offer his hotels its own brand of wines of guaranteed quality. Thanks to a solid investment, the winery started up in a state-of-the-art building and through synergistic partnerships, it is now present in all the main export markets.
WINE TO TRY
Marco Real Crianza Colección Privada
€18.85 – Available at Karwig Wines, Carrigaline; JJ O’Driscolls, Ballinlough; Selected Off licences
Hand-harvested grapes from the bodegas’s own vineyards combine in this intense blend of Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Graciano.
Ripe red berries, blackberries, vanilla and toast delivered by persistent and bold tannins.
Bodegas Gran Feudo: This is Navarra’s oldest bodega and the leading exporter in the DO. Its history traces back to 1872, when Claudio Chivite Francés built the winery La Cascajera, named after the stone quarry on which it was situated. The company has expanded to other major Spanish wine regions but they’re still synonym with fine wines from Navarra.
WINE TO TRY
Gran Feudo Rosado 2016
€12.00 – Available at JJ O’Driscolls, Ballinlough; Selected Off licences
Garnacha combines with Merlot and Tempranillo in this bright raspberry coloured rosé made with the saignée method.
Flavourful and rich, notes of strawberry, blood orange and pomegranate arrive with intensity. A textbook example of a classic Navarra rosado.
Bodegas Ochoa: This winery merges strong roots with eyes set on the future. Run by the fifth and sixth generation of the Ochoa family, it’s a leader in R+D and focuses on producing fine wines from the 145 hectares divided in six vineyards in different parts of Navarra, mostly within the sub-region of Traibuenas.
WINE TO TRY
Ochoa Reserva 2009
€20 – Available at Martin’s Off Licence Fairview, Gerry’s Supermarket Skerries, The Drink Store Manor St.
This sophisticated red is a fusion of Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot aged in a combination of French and American oak.
Elegant, well rounded and with a beautiful balance between cherry preserve, blackberries, sweet spices, cocoa, espresso and toast.
Bodegas Valcarlos: Part of the reputable Grupo Faustino, which spans 150 years of winemaking experience in Spain. They source grapes from their 32 hectares of vineyards distributed between the towns of Los Arcos and Torres del Río.
WINE TO TRY
Fortius Chardonnay 2016
€11.99 – Available at Martin’s Off Licence Fairview, Gerry’s Supermarket Skerries, The Drink Store Manor St.
International favourite Chardonnay becomes a fruity white with aromas of pears, green apple and a delicate herbaceous note.
Moderated in acidity and medium-bodied, it’s a fantastic aperitif or match for fish, shellfish or grilled vegetables.
Bodega Otazu: This bodega is rich in history and while its current vineyards were planted in the nineties and its stunning “wine cathedral” was build in 1998 (an architectural wonder that includes a winery and a museum), its history goes back to 1840. In 2009 they were granted the D.O.P. Pago de Otazu, a status shared by only 14 bodegas in Spain which guarantees they work exclusively with their own grapes and up to the strictest standards of quality.
Otazu Rosado Merlot 2016
13.5 % ABV
€18.00 – Available at Mitchell and sons
This intense rosado shows a bright coral tone, aromas of cranberry jellies and ripe pomegranates promise sweetness, but the palate is surprised with a taste drier than expected.
Medium bodied and apologetically exuberant, this is a bold and fruity wine that will shine among tapas.
If your thirst for fun is on par with your interest in trying wines from Navarra, we have saved you time and spotted some great bottles as seen in the wine menus of a few of our favourite restaurants across Ireland.
Galway’s mecca for lovers of Spanish gastronomy, Cava Bodega, serves an impressive rainbow of choice: seven wines from Navarra, from refreshing white Nekeas 2014 (€26) and rosado Azul y Garanza (€32), to light reds like Seis and Abril de Azul y Garanza (€44), and intense and rich reds like Aga (€32), Nekeas Crianza (€36), Guerinda El Maximo (€45).
In Waterford, Bodega offers a pink treat at a bargain price: Campo Nuevo Garnacha Rosado (€20).
At tapas institution Las Tapas de Lola in Dublin you’ll find Aga Roble, and at Wines Direct (within department store Arnotts) you can sit and sip Guerinda’s reds and white at amazing value as you can grab the bottles from the shelf and enjoy them in their recently opened wine bar area along with tasty bites. For a more intimate experience, you can cosy up in La Cave Wine Bar and enjoy Artazuri (€29).
If you have managed to get a hold on a great bottle of wine from Navarra, you can always take it with you to a BYOB, here’s a list with some of the best BYOB venues across the country.
Gabriela’s passion for writing is only matched by her love for food and wine. Journalist, confectioner and sommelier, she fell in love with Ireland years ago and moved from Venezuela to Dublin in 2014.
Since then, she has written about and worked in the local food scene, and she’s determined to discover and share the different traditions, flavours and places that have led Irish food and drink to fascinate her.