Most of us are familiar with the famous Running of the Bulls festival held every year in Pamplona, the capital of the region of Navarra in Spain. Thousands of brave revelers race through the town’s winding streets in front of a few toro bravo that have been let loose from their pens. These human risk takers attempt to run to safety before being gored or trampled by the bulls (or other valiant participants). I’ve never witnessed this event and most likely never will, although I’ve heard that the post-run celebration is quite the event. Apparently, wines from Navarra are poured and millions of locals and tourists, dressed in the traditional garb of white, a red hanky, and red sash, are merrily tippling. Now that’s a party I’d love to attend!
I’ve tasted wines from Rioja, Catalunya, Murcia, Galicia, and other regions in Spain thanks to aggressive marketing efforts. But recently, I received six wines from Navarra, a wine region with which I was unfamiliar. In the safety of my home, I waved my own red hanky and cheered. And the only dash I made was to pour another taste of these palate-pleasing, budget-friendly wines. Perhaps you could call it my personal Running for the Wine…
The Wine Region of Navarra
The Navarra region is nestled into the Pyrenees of north-central Spain, just south of France. With an area smaller than the state of Connecticut, Navarra boasts three major climate types (semi-arid Mediterranean, transitional Continental, and sub-humid Atlantic) and a landscape that consists of semi-desert basin, dense woodland hills, and towering mountains. The diverse wine growing region occupies about half of the area and is approximately 34,000 acres. Its five distinct winemaking subzones (Ribera Baja, Ribera Alta, Tierra Estella, Valdizarbe, and Baja Montaña) are defined by a variety of ecosystems and growing situations such as slopes, streams, plateaus, plains, and more. Soils in the hills of Tierra Estella are high in limestone and can be rocky. In Valdizarbe, they are of chalk, and in Ribera Baja and Ribera Alta, soils are sandy and nutrient poor.
Red wine varieties comprise 92% of the wines grown in Navarra. Tempranillo (35%) and Grenache (23%) are the most cultivated; Bordeaux varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon (16%) and Merlot (14%) are frequently used for blending, as is a minor grape, Graciano (less than 2%). Authorized to be grown in Navarra, too, are Carignan, Pinot Noir, and Syrah. Responsible for only 8% of wine grapes grown in the region are Chardonnay, Moscatel de Grano Menudo, Viura, Sauvignon Blanc, Malvasia, and White Grenache.
Wines from Navarra
The wines I tasted from Navarra were easy to drink and budget friendly. None were exceptionally complex, but each demonstrated an ability to pair with a variety of food…or on its own. Frankly, it was delightful to taste and appreciate wines from yet another distinctive region in the world, one of my favorite pastimes.
I received two selections from Bodegas Ochoa, family owned and operated since 1845 in the small town of Olite. The winery has been producing wine for centuries and the owners proudly display an invoice dated 1370 for wine provided to the King, a summer resident in the town at that time. Today, their philosophy is that “quality starts in the vineyard” and the process of obtaining organic certification has begun.
Ochoa Calendas Bianco 2015 ($10) consisted of 50% Chardonnay, 43% Viura, and 7% Moscatel de Grano Menudo grown in soils of calcareous clay and fermented in stainless steel. Intense aromas of stone fruit, light citrus, peaches, pears, florals, and minerality burst from the glass. On the palate, I found refreshing acidity, ripe citrus, and floral notes. Balanced and approachable, pour this wine as an aperitif, with a light pasta dish, or with a fruit based dessert.
A delicious wine for only $8? Yes. Vega del Castillo Garnacha Cepas Viejas 2014 consists of 100% Garnacha from vines that are over sixty years old. Broad aromas of cherries and violets and succulent flavors of red and black fruit, black pepper and spice were balanced – its finish was long and rich. Enjoy a few glasses (or bottles) with juicy red meats, a rice dish with herbs, or hearty cheeses.
Their Bodegas Principe de Viana Chardonnay 2015 ($10) was refreshing and full of character. The Chardonnay grapes were picked at night for optimal freshness and, ultimately, fermented in French and American barrels for three months. I discovered aromas of green apple, bright citrus, tropical fruit, lime, hint of lemon and stone fruit, vanilla, and mesmerizing hyacinth-yellow florals. On the palate, mouthwatering acidity, persistent flavors of juicy citrus, and a touch of tropical fruit glided to a long, rich finish. Delight in this Chardonnay with your favorite tapas…grilled mushrooms, salmon croquettes, or roasted vegetables with sauce.
Many of us won’t have the opportunity to attend Pamplona’s annual Running of the Bulls to be held July 6-14…and party afterwards. Instead, open and enjoy several bottles of wines from Navarra with friends and family in the comfort of your home. Like me, you’ll be running…for more pours of these affordable wines.