For many, years I have enjoyed the wines of Navarra in Northern Spain. Located between the Pyrenees and the Ebro river, the Navarra region is steeped in history. Its capital is the historic city of Pamplona, famous for its bull running festivals that date back to the 13th century. It is also located along the illustrious pilgrim route "Camino de Santiago de Compostela" (the Way of St. James).
However, being so close to Rioja, its wines have somewhat suffered from being in Rioja's shadow. But few Spanish wine regions have made such strides forward in quality as Navarra. What is also so great about Navarra wines is that they are really quite delicious and very affordable.
The area under vine in Navarra is about 45,000 acres (about a third of Rioja and less than 1/5th of Bordeaux to put it in context).
Compared to some wine regions with multiple appellations, Navarra is simple, just one appellation for quality wines - D.O Navarro. This covers red, white and rose wines, dry wines as well as sweet wines from the local Moscatel grape. The D.O allows for quite a diversity of grape varieties, both indigenous as well as classic international varieties. The most important varieties of the region are the Spanish varieties Tempranillo and Garnacha (known as Grenache in France), which account for about 60% of plantings. While local white varieties Viura and Moscatel are important, Navarra is gaining a highly regarded reputation for Chardonnay wines.
Today, the focus may be on quality red wines, but historically, it was the land of rosé, quaffed liberally, after an exciting morning running the bulls (not a bad way to start the day!). Today, their rosé wines (made by the saignee method), have never been better, and thankfully are making inroads here in the U.S. Watch out for them this coming summer.
All D.O Navarra wines carry the official seal of quality from the local Consejo Regulador (regulatory body). Look for it on the label.
With such a diverse offering the wines of Navarra pair with lots of different foods, from seafood, salads and lighter dishes to heartier meaty dishes. Just last week, I had the occasion to taste through a wide range of Navarra wines sold here in the U.S. I was bowled over by the quality as well as the price points. Here are some of my favorite wines tasted:
• Castillo de Monjardin, Chardonnay, 2008, $12 - Unoaked, vibrant refreshing fruit - ruby grapefruit, nectarine, apples and great mineral notes. Try it with pan fried trout, smoked salmon dishes, quiche, Faith's chicken and shallot dish, or risotto with mushrooms.
• El Chaparral, Garnacha, 2007, $14 - Great concentration of cherry liqueur fruit that persists across palate. Lovely earthy and lifted floral notes and toasty oak. Long length. This would be great with veal chops, beef stew, or a simple hamburger and fries.
• Ochoa, Red Crianza, Tempranillo, 2005, $14 - Intense aromas of blackberry, strawberry and cherry coulis with layers of tobacco and leather. Modern in a classic sense. pair with spaghetti Bolognese, sausages and mash, chili-roasted butternut squash or with blue cheeses.
• Artazu, Artazuri Garnacha 2006, $15 - Spicy red and black cherry , berry fruit prevails. Some tobacco notes. Soft tannins and easy to drink. This is great with char grilled flank steak, spicy french lentils or aged hard cheeses like Gouda.
• Marco Real Garnacha 2005, $10 - An easy drinking fresh, fruity style. Lots of ripe red berry fruit and soft tannins. A great everyday wine and perfect with pizza, pasta with tomato based sauces.
Stores that carry Navarra wines include:
Astor Wines (Manhattan, NY)
Chambers Street Wines (Manhattan, NY)
Sherry-Lehmann (Manhattan, NY)
KL Wines (Redwood, CA)
Wine.com (multiple states)
Zachy's (Scarsdale, NY)
Anconas Wines (Ridgefield, CT)
B21 (Tarpon Springs, Fl)
Mainstreet, (La Grange, IL)
Canal's Bottlestop (Marlton, NJ)
The Austin Wine Merchant (Austin, TX)
(Images: Courtesy of Navarra Consejo Regulador)