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Blog: Anne Krebiehl tastes wines from Navarra

Published:  18 April, 2012

Anne Krebiehl tasted around 30 wines from Navarra - and found they don't conform to one singular taste and aren't on Parker's radar - meaning "great value for us".

Anne Krebiehl tasted around 30 wines from Navarra - and found they don't conform to one singular taste and aren't on Parker's radar - meaning "great value for us".

"There is no singular taste to Navarra," Carlos Biurrun of Bodega Nekeas jokes. "The north is mountainous like Switzerland, the centre green like Central Europe and the south is like a desert."

The small tasting of just over thirty wines from all over Navarra at Bar Pepito at Kings Cross yesterday bore witness to this climatic variation. Mostly known for its lively, easy-drinking rosado wines, Navarra has lots more to offer than these brightly pink summer wines and the particular focus of the tasting was showing Navarra wines to go with food.

While most of the rosés were strawberry-scented, dry, refreshing and easy, Beatriz Ochoa whose father Xavier and sister Adriana make the wine at Bodegas Ochoa (represented by PLB) , showed a gastronomical and superior Rosado:  her Calendos Rosado is a typical "rosado de noche", a saignée wine made by macerating Garnacha, Tempranillo and Merlot for just one night before pressing:  it displays a fresh berry scent, lively natural acidity, is bone dry but unlike so many others, it has a lovely tannic backbone, marking it out as a food wine.  It matched the Spanish charcuterie (chorizo, salami, lomo and jamon) well but Beatriz was quick to point out that it would go well with paella, with tomato-based pasta dishes and summer salads.  At a trade price of £5.50/bottle this is a steal that can easily be sold by the glass and work with any number of dishes, Spanish or not.

Equally punching above its weight is the family's Tempranillo Crianza:  anyone who has a weakness for cinnamon-scented, warm, rounded Riojas will love this smooth, plum-fruited and balanced wine which spent one year in new and used American oak and one in bottle: since it says 'Navarra' rather than Rioja on the label you can buy this in for a mere £7.50 and outshine many pricier bottles - and don't be misled by the term 'Crianza' - in this case it stands for mellowness.

Due to the shared history with France (the Kings of Navarra also claimed the French crown) next to Tempranillo and Garnacha, Cabernet Sauvignon is also at home here.  "We people are clear in our minds where the border between France and Spain is," explains Biurrun, "but plants have no borders.  We are between Bordeaux and Rioja, it works."

José Maria Fraile of Compañía Vitivinicola Tandem also points to the French heritage and moderate climate in the north of Navarra where harvest usually is three weeks later than in the south. Cabernet Sauvignon here makes elegant, structured wines of medium weight bearing more than a passing resemblance to (classic, old-style) Bordeaux.  Tandem's 2004 Macula, a Cabernet-Merlot blend, is acutely elegant wine in a very classic, restrained vein, only just beginning to open up.  It has structure, fruit and length and is unbelievably well-priced at £15 for such class.  It is a wine for the dinner table (and possibly a few more years in the cellar if you like notes of game, truffle and leather).  Tandem's soon to be released Inmacula Viura 2011 is also marked by natural acidity and freshness:  textured and long it is another serious food wine.

Other outstanding wines were Señorio de Sarría Gran Reserva 2001 (Boutinot):  made from 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot, it is an elegant, slender wine showing the long and developed flavours of maturity: tobacco leaf, game and fragrant cedar with vestiges of red fruit, fresh acidity and a balanced 13.5% ABV.  Incredibly, its rrp is £13.50.  Señorio de Sarría's No 7 Graciano - an indigenous variety usually used to add spice to Tempranillo-based wines, here appears on its own in all its clove-scented glory with notes of smoky meat and a smooth, rounded body.  It's unusual but delicious.

It goes almost without saying that Bodegas Chivite's Finca de Villatuerta showed beautifully:  resonant red fruit, spicy elegance with lovely depth and freshness. 
Navarra's moderate and in some cases marginal climates afford all of these wines a refreshing, natural acidity while a long wine-making history lends authenticity and expertise. Amazingly, Navarra still operates in the shadow of Spain's more Parker-worthy regions - but for the time being this means great value for money for us.