I will have to say, that my face drew a blank expression when I looked at the box of samples that I received from the Kingdom of Navarra. Even though I consider myself a student of the vine, I was caught off guard my the name of this place. But when I did a little research, I found out that this relatively unknown area in Spain is home to the famous running of the bulls in Pamplona, to which I said ole'!
In case you didn't know already, we have reached our destination, so jump out of the wine-wagon and join me on a trip back through time to a place call the Kingdom of Navarra in the country of Spain, an ancient and independent kingdom. The kingdom of Navarre was one of the Christian kingdoms to emerge in northern Spain, in fact Navarra has been at the crossroads of history for more than 1000 years. But today in the wine world it's known as the "kingdom of pink" because of the many Rosado or rosé wines they produce from the abundant Granacha grape. If you would like know more of the history of Navarra feel free to click here.
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. You'll find the KON on the foothills of the Pyrenees, benefiting from the cooling influences, are at Navarra's northern edge, while on the southern end of the kingdom it has eight villages in the governmental region, which are part of the Rioja wine region [nothing to frown about].
Navarra's unusual past and diverse topography has made it an attraction for "off the beaten path" travelers and food and wine winotics like myself [perhaps this summer for me]. The old Kingdom of Navarra has preserved its royal nobility in rich tradition of food and wine and makes a great place for the wandering wino to visit today.
Identity Crisis: In the KON they have the "famous" running of the bulls event going on every year in Pamplona with an abundance of media focus on thise 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 appear that 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 a story on the"Kingdom of Pink" by the GMR it was speculated that perhaps this identity crisis was fueled by "individual agendas in their past, the internal politics of Navarra's grape growers and wineries held separate associations and no one producer would trust the other." These facts may have held back the wines and this region from the success they could have achieved if they had only worked together and possibly could have avoided their identity crisis.
According to the Gray Market Report, "frankly, any time you have grape growers following their own agenda of high yield and safe early harvest, without getting winemakers input, a mixed signal is being unknowingly sent to the consumer" that "houston we have a problem". Which I take to mean, it won't be easy to achieve wines of substance on a consistent basis and build a reputation to attract the attention of the wine media and the wine swirling public. So what has changed? They have decided to work together to rebuild that lost identity with a renewed sense of vision for the future, while remembering their past.
Vision Renewed: While in the past they admittedly had problems wanting to work together to build an identity, to build brand awareness if you will, that identity crisis they were suffering from, now has a new focus and new goals. That new goal, that new focus is to promote, educate people about the deliciously fruity wines of Navarra, Spain and introduce you to a world thirsty for superbly made wines of reasonable prices. They would invite you to like them on 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 varities, with Tempranillo and Grenacha [used for the popular Rosado] leading the way.
Full Disclosure: I was sent three different wines [samples] for the review process, that I believe gave great representation of the kind of wines most folks would likely encounter if you were grab one off the shelf from your local wine shop. So with out any further ado I introduce you to the wines of Navarra.
Bodega Otazu Crianza 2006: This wine is a blend of 35% Tempranillo, 35% Merlot and 30% Cab. Sauv. In the glass you'll find a deep, black ruby core. On the nose an apparent use of new oak, toasty, leathery aroma with ripe black fruit notes. On the palate I found this wine to be soft, rich, complex compote of lovely ripe [but not jammy] red fruit flavors, beautifully balanced acidity, a discernible terroir minerality and firm tannins, with a definite tip of the cap to Saint-Émilion stylistically. I scored this wine 89 points and its SRP is $15.
Bodegas Chivite, Expresión Tempranillo 2007: This wine is 100% Tempranillo. In the glass a deeply plummy-black core. On the nose pleasant oak 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 chocolate. Soft cabernet-like tannins, with some complexity and a nice finish. I tried the wine once more the next day and it seemed to come out its austere, shy stage giving more flavors and structure. A well made wine that is drinking good now, but a few more years of bottle age will help soften some of those rough edges. I scored this wine 89 points and it sells for an SRP of $40. At least 2 hours of 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 examples of wine from the Kingdom of Navarra was a real hoot. That said, you would be wise to seek these wines out yourself and give them a swirl. Until next time everyone sip long and prosper, cheers!