"Wine to me is passion. It's family and friends. It's warmth of heart and generosity of spirit. Wine is art. It's culture. It's the essence of civilization and the art of living." ~ Robert Mondavi
This sentiment expressed for me so wonderfully by Mr. Mondavi in his Autobiography,"Harvests of Joy" really sums up so much of my recent experiences in the Kingdom of Navarra, Spain. Many of those same experiences and impressions expressed by Mr. Mondavi in the quote above really resonated for me in a recent visit to this wonderful wine region known as Navarra. If you've not been to this region, you owe to yourself to make the trip.
The reason I say that's because where ever I went on this trip, I experienced a real warmth of the heart and a generous spirit with the many various producers, winemakers and just ordinary every-day "folks" who I met while I was there. I was really made to feel at home and I don't mind saying this either; this place, its people, the food and of course the wine really scratched my soul.
Perhaps you're wondering what does that mean? Honestly, I'm still digesting what that means for me personallt. But a few things I do know is that I came away with a new appreciation for the things that really matter in life. To sum it up, I just see things a little differently than I have before and I'm richer for the experience.
Pondering further; perhaps it's because I ran smack-dab into the middle of a place, that had a great culture long before the Roman Empire. I say that, because if you listen closely you can still hear the echo of history rumbling through the streets, you feel its vibe and sense the passion for life in this place, it just moves you.
I still don't know the full answer, but I like the sense of satisfaction, as the pulse of exploration rushed through me and really made me think about life a little more circumspectly. So yes while I found the wine, the food and people there to be generous and vibrant, I also found the soul of a great people, visiting the Kingdom of Navarra and look forward to returning again someday and please forgive me for waxing-on philosophically.
Now enter our experience, just last September and that of the Navarra Five. Where at Señorío de Otazu, we meet their lively ambassador and General Manager, Javier Banales Vanes for the first time. You immediately sense the passion for his vineyards and the wines they produce. I and the rest of the Navarra Five may have been caught off-guard by his vigorous enthusiasm, but nonetheless intrigued by his exclamations of "welcome to your home" I think we all immediately felt at home in this Temple of Wine.
He also said regarding winemaking; "give not only muscle or bone, only blood" and that "acidity and balance is the blood of wine" and finally "recover and respect the terroir". Everything he said, was amply reflected in the dedication of imparting those qualities to the wine, the winery, the terroir and mightily abundant in the vineyards. He went on to say further regarding Señorío de Otazu, that their business is Wine, Wine, Wine. After tasting through the wines presented that day, all I can say, "yes it is!".
2009 Otazu Chardonnay: A brilliant unoaked Chardonnay chock full of vibrant mouthwatering acidity, beautiful stone fruit, citrus and minerality shining through every sip and slurp. This is my third or fourth time encountering this wine and it's a winner for me every-time and I'm typically NOT a fan of the un-oaked movement .You can read more of my review here.
2010 Otazu Rosado: This wine is absolutely brilliant, bright and vivid, displaying cherry and strawberry colored hues. On the nose this 100% Merlot flashes the smell of sweet rose petals. On the first splash, vivid acidity, great structure and almost creamy strawberry and cherry on the super-clean finish [SRP $15 USD]. I gave this wine a score of 90 points, this is the kind of Rose wine I would filling my pantry, really well done.
2006 Bodega Otazu Crianza: 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. A definite tip of the cap to food-friendliness as this wine paired effortlessly with the grilled squid and boiled octopus. For the score keepers in the audience I scored this wine 89 points and its SRP is $15 USD. In Spanish wine shops this wine sells for about 7-8 euros.
2006 Altar: One of two big-boys in the room. The Altar a wonderful blend of 90% Cab. Sauv and 10% Tempranillo which spent 18 months on French Oak. In the glass a nearly opaque ruby colored core. Wonderful aromas immediately escaping from the glass, tobacco, dried tea leaves, licorice, blackberry and meaty worn leather. On the palate a dense coating of blackberry, plum unsweetened black licorice and a dusting of bakers cocoa. All hanging together on the stoop of long finish and fitting nicely on a canvas of great structure and acidity. Decant first, to maximize the flavors and aromas at least two hours.[$60 USD] I gave this wine a score of 92 points. Well worth the price of admission.
2005 Vitral: Wow, this was some fantastic juice and with only 700 bottles produced this the kind of wine many collectors would love to put their hands on this blend of 95% Cab Sauv and just 5% Tempranillo. Dark, dark ruby core gives way to brilliant aromas ripe with black currant, unsweetened licorice and leather. On the palate nothing but layers of ripe spiced cherry, berry fruit and mocha stretched over a canvas of well-integrated new oak and dusty tannins. The finish is long and caressing. This bottle appears to be quite pricey with a quick look on wine-searcher, but the SRP is $105 and worth the price of admission. I gave it a score of 94 points, it could age longer but is drinking very nicely at the moment.
"This wine is too good for toast-drinking, my dear. You don't want to mix emotions up with a wine like that. You lose the taste. ~Hemingway A quote from his book, "The Sun also Rises" reminds us all of one thing when it comes to wine from Spain and Navarra in particular; it's not about power, it's about finesse. This is the beauty, the allure of Spanish wines which as Mr. Hemingway deftly points out that these wines are too good for mere toasting, they are made to be enjoyed with family, friends and great food. I hope you will join me in seeking out more wines from the Navarra region, so you to can taste the passion. Until next time, sip long and prosper, cheers!