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Navarra goes back to its roots with Garnacha rosados

Published:  16 February, 2018

In the not-so-distant past, Garnacha accounted for 90% of plantings in Navarra. After falling to around 20% in the 1980s, it is now on the rise says Navarra DO president David Palacios, as winemakers flock back to the region’s once signature grape

While larger in surface area than its cousin Rioja, Navarra has battled with its identity over the years in the UK and abroad, experimenting with international varieties like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon in order to widen its appeal.

Add to this varied varietal mix the vast differences in climate and soils from north to south, and the region’s reputation as one of the most diverse regions in Spain has turned out to be both a curse and a blessing in terms of communicating USPs to international markets.

In 2018, the Navarra DO is operating a back to basics approach by putting a special emphasis on “recovering” indigenous varietals Tempranillo and in particular Garnacha, which is responsible for the dry, but bright and fruity roasdos which were the region’s original claim to fame.

Reviving this traditional grape as the face of the region was the focus of a tasting hosted by the DO last night, where president David Palacios presented just 12 newly released wines – a mixture of six rosés (2016-2017) and six red (2013-2016).

The wines, which were predominantly single variety Garnacha or blends incorporating Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo and Graciano and Syrah, included the likes of star performer Chivite Colleción 125 Rosado (2016), a 70% Garnacha, 30% Tempranillo which was notable for its fruity and vibrant drinkability factor.

There was also a focus on Garnacha as the basis for the reds, with six from the cool north picked for their spicy, long-lasting flavour profiles typical of this mountainous part of the region.

“Garnacha is very traditional in Navarra,” said Palacios. “But a new wave of wineries have realised that the grape is not only very well adapted to our soils, but is a very good grape for us to build our identity on – not just for rosé but reds too.

“We have a freshness of Garnacha in Navarra, particularly in the north in the mountains, which gives us a strong basis on which to differentiate ourselves from the rest of Spain. It is the best way for us to express our personality and identity.”

From a general dismissive attitude to Garnacha, “people thought it was great for rosés but not for reds”, Palacios confirms plantings of Garnacha are now on the rise, - particularly a specific hereditary strain of the grape, specific to Navarra, which is used to create the typical rosado and red styles which were presented at the tasting.

The decision to focus on Navarra’s signature style surely has something to do with the popularity of rosé in the UK, which is one of the DO’s biggest export markets (the UK has a 14% share of exports behind Germany (23%) and China (19%) as per the most recent 2016 DO figures).

Although rosé accounts for 20% of DO Navarra production (the majority is red), the lion’s share of DO exports to the UK are rosé, and it is such figures which have partly prompted several international marketing campaigns from the DO - including last night's tasting - to put this style and grape first and foremost in the minds of the world’s wine-drinking communities.